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A Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff

by

Neil Gaiman

BORDERLAND PRESS
Baltimore, MD 2011

A Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff Copyright 2011 by Neil Gaiman


All rights reserved. This book is fully protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America, and of all the countries covered by the International
Copyright Union (including the countries covered by the International Copyright Union including the Dominion of Canada and the rest of the British Commonwealth),
and of all countries covered by the Pan-American Copyright Convention and the Universal Copyright Convention, and of all countries with which the United States
has reciprocal copyright relations.
Before You Read This Copyright 2008 by Neil Gaiman
Featherquest appeared in Imagine magazine Copyright 1984 by Neil Gaiman. In this form copyright (c) 2011 Neil Gaiman
Jerusalem Copyright 2007 by Neil Gaiman
Feminine Endings Copyright 2007 by Neil Gaiman
Orange Copyright 2008 by Neil Gaiman
Orphee Copyright 2000 by Neil Gaiman
Ghosts in the M achines Copyright 2006 by Neil Gaiman
The Annotated Brothers Grimm: Grimmer Than You Thought Copyright 2004 by Neil Gaiman
The View from the Cheap Seats Copyright 2010 by Neil Gaiman
Once Upon a Time Copyright 2008 by Neil Gaiman
Dresden Dolls Copyright 2010 by Neil Gaiman
Introduction to Hothouse by Brian Aldiss Copyright 2008 by Neil Gaiman
Entitlement Issues Copyright 2009 by Neil Gaiman
Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech? Copyright 2008 by Neil Gaiman
Harvey Awards Speech Copyright 2004 by Neil Gaiman
Nebula Awards Speech Copyright 2005 by Neil Gaiman
Conjunctions Copyright 2009 by Neil Gaiman
Typesetting and page design by E. Estela M onteleone
Cover Illustration by (the one and only!) Gahan Wilson
Printed in the United States of America
Borderlands Press POB 61 Benson, M D 21018
www.borderlandspress.com

DEDICATION
Because some friends are golden, and because they become family, this little book is for Peter
Nicholls and Clare Coney and for John and Judith Clute. With gratitude.

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
I would like to thank Tom and Elizabeth Monteleone for encouraging me in this madness, and to
thank Shield Bonnichsen who suggested including a number of rare and unusual things I've
written, none of which I wound up putting in here, mostly because by the time the attic cooled off
enough to go hunting for old clippings up there, I'd already filled up this book with other things,
both ghastly and golden.

CONTENTS
Before You Read This
Featherquest
Jerusalem
Feminine Endings
Orange
Orphee
Ghosts in the Machines
The Annotated Brothers Grimm: Grimmer Than You Though
The View from the Cheap Seats
Once Upon a Time
Dresden Dolls
Introduction to Hothouse by Brian Aldiss
Entitlement Issues
Why Defend Freedom of Icky Speech?
Harvey Awards Speech
Nebula Awards Speech
Conjunctions

INTRODUCTION
I have always thought that B Sides and Rarities would make a good name for a collection like
this.
But there are no B sides any longer. Not really. I mean, sure, theres Vinyl, but in the olden days,
when dinosaurs walked the Earth and I saw bankers in bowler hats go to work on the train every
morning, we bought our songs on 45 revolutions per minute seven inch disks called singles. And
because all such disks are, by their nature and the way the universe is made, two-sided, the song you
wanted to buy was the A side, and another song that youd never heard of was the B side. When
albums came out they would often not have the singles on them, and even if they had the single, the B
side would be nowhere to be seen. (I am told that the composer of the song on the B side made as
much as the composer on the A side, and that many fortunes were made by managers or publishers or
record company men putting their songs on the B sides.)
For an author the B sides are the things that you write that nobody notices when you write them, and
that remain uncollected, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes not.
Featherquest has been uncollected and unreprinted since its first publication, in 1984. I wrote it
when I was 22, and it was my first professional sale, to Imagine Magazine. (Colin Greenland
suggested I send it to them.) Imagines only condition for publishing the story was that I cut it from
8,000 words to 4,000, so I did. (Or perhaps they cut it themselves. Anyway, somebody cut it.)
I was disappointed when I read the published story, convinced it was only half as good as the one
that I had written.
And then, as I wrote more, and I learned how to write stories and to end them, I decided that
neither version had been particularly good, and I would let them both fade and be forgotten.
Some years ago I took the second story that I had sold to Imagine, How to Sell the Ponti Bridge
and I tidied it up a little and put it in my collection M is for Magic. Featherquest however, never
called me to tidy it up, and the version you read here is the complete version and its the version I
wrote when I was 22. Looking at it today, its like a collage of authors I liked. Im not sure theres a
sentence that actually sounds like me.
Jerusalem was commissioned by Lu Kemp at BBC Radio Four for their William Blake
celebrations. I was told to write something inspired by a Blake poem, and I wrote a story inspired by
a peculiar morning I had spent in Jerusalem. I found myself frustrated by the limitations of length on
radio, and it was cut further before it was broadcast to fit its time slot. This is the first time its been
printed.
Feminine Endings was written for a volume of Love Letters. When I first met my wife she told
me she had once been a human statue and I sent her this story.
Orange was written in airports. I based the narrator on Ms. Hayley Campbell, and loved writing
a story that was only answers. It was written for editor Jonathan Strahan, and has been anthologized
several times, although not yet collected. One day Ill write a short story thats just questions.
Orphee was written for a CD liner notes, and it was for the late Kathy Acker.
Ghosts in the Machines was written for the New York Times Editorial page at Halloween. Its
almost an op-ed piece.
Im not a book reviewer. I was when I was youngit was a marvelous way to feed my book habit

and to find books that I would otherwise have never encountered. Nobody cared if a snotty young
journalist, often pseudonymous because he was writing too much for too many people, liked or didnt
like a book. These days I can muster no enthusiasm for being cleverly rude about a bad book (there
are so many bad books, and there are people who loved to write them and loved to read them, and
why would I try and spoil anyones fun?) and if I am going to read a good book I would rather I were
reading it for pleasure and that it did not feel like work.
But there is a dialogue about books, a dialogue between the reviewers and the reviewed, and it is a
good thing to feel part of that dialogue. So I waver, from time to time, and review a book for an editor
who asks me at the right moment. I have included a few of those book reviews here.
The journalism is self-explanatory. Well, I hope it is. The Oscars piece was meant to be about the
Oscars, but it really isnt. Its about the melancholy days when everyone else is celebrating and you
do not know how. The piece on Fairy Tales was written for the Guardian when Stardust The Movie
came out. The Dresden Dolls article was written for Spin Online, and was as honest a piece of
writing as Ive ever managed.
Theres an introduction to a Brian Aldiss book here; a couple of extracts from my blog at
www.neilgaiman.com which have, in their own way, gone on to have lives away from the blog; and
two very different speeches, both delivered at awards ceremonies.
And as for the poetry, the poems here gave me pleasure in the writing. One poem is a warning and
instruction for readers, made into a beautiful print by letterer Todd Klein, another is an account of a
visit to a trout farm with my wife before she was even my girlfriend.
My thanks to Tom and Elizabeth Monteleone for allowing me to display some of my B-sides and
my rarities in public. I hope you enjoy them, and I trust that somewhere in these ghastly pages you find
something golden. Or that somewhere in this golden volume you find something ghastly.
Im easy
Neil

B EFORE YOU READ THIS


Before you read this familiarise yourself
with the text. Note the position of the escape hatches,
the candles that will light in the event of a forced landing
to show you the way out. The author will make an
announcement.
Before you read this watch the moon.
Note the golden colour as it rises
the way it pales and shrinks when it is high in the sky.
Before you read this remember: Do not
read these words in order. Make your path. Start in
the middle. End at the
beginning.
Before you read this do something else.
The water is high in the creek from
snow-melt. Overhead the geese are honking
an arrowhead. Fly with them.
Before you read this purify yourself. Remove
your clothes and walk through the fire.
Forget all you have learned.
Forget your letters.
Before you read this write it down. Take a candle
and your childhood into an attic. Make a
paper house of books and dreams and
burn it to ash.
Before you read this.
Before you read this let your heart dissolve,
the words made mould
and mist and memories. (Leave the memories
inside the paper house you burned.)
Before you read this ride the night train.
Do not sleep. Encounter people you remember,
now long dead, and read to them.

Before you read this


battle zombies,
watch your step, trust no one,
kiss without thinking.
Before you read this
perform a small miracle.
Before you read this. Before you.
Before you read this,
read these instructions. Commit them to
memory. (The only ways out are
booby-trapped.)
Before you read this, listen to the silence,
perfect and entire. Resolve not to read anything
not any longer, not ever, not again.
If possible, first attain Nirvana.
Before you read this summon genies and spiders
all the kings huntsmen
and follow the trail of the author through the dark wood
from tree to tree, until it vanishes.
Before you read this make your will
and pray.
Say goodbye to your loved ones. Know it
will change nothing.
Before you read this leave your room.
Leave everything. Walk naked into the darkness
that has no words, in which there are no words,
in which all reading is over. Before you read this.
Before you read this.
Before you read.

F EATHERQUEST
This is a tale they tell in ancient Khem, late at night when the fires are low and the candles are
liquefying in their sticks; in Derana they tell it and the Tromilly; sailors tell it on the long passage
down the River Xyths, that does not flow into the sea; the folk of the small islands of Andar, Vandar,
Sandar and Giff also know of it, but in Kharan they do not know it, and in Fasstiarelle of the sleepy
towers they only tell it in odd-numbered months. In the marshes of Fogpool, where tax-collectors fear
to tread they tell it, and in Scryrrh it is told in the market places, by old men. They do not tell it in the
city of Lost Carnadine, though I have spoken to one who claimed to have seen it written in a garbled
from upon the walls of a public convenience in that remarkable city.
They call it the Tale of the Dreamer, and it begins in such a fashion:
There was in the city of Melkarn, which is the capital of Nia (of the seven deserts) a certain man,
whom men called Road, which means, Constant, and he lived in the poorer part of the city in a house
that had been his fathers and his fathers before him: for know you that the fortunes of men and cities
change even as the gods decree, and in far off days Roans ancestors were accounted among the
nobility and were blessed with great fortune.
Alas, those days were long gone and Roan lived alone in the crumbling house without servant or
concubine, and spent his days and nights studying the old books and parchments that were all his
father had left when he quit this life. Young Roan was reduced to selling the tapestries and carpets of
the house to buy food and candles wherewith to exist and to read at night, and in this he was frugal,
for he bought the cheapest cuts of meant, and the last fruit from the vendors barrows, also he bought
candles of bibble wax, that smoked and stenched, rather than candles of bees wax or berry wax. In
this way Roan passed his days: when his father died Road was eighteen years of age, and when the
tale starts his two and twentieth birthday had just come and gone, a fact which our hero did not
remark upon, for in his dusty library all days were one, and he scarcely reckoned between them.
It came to pass that one night Roan slept in the library, as he often did, his head on a manuscript
pillow. And sleeping he dreamed a dream so cunningly fashioned that he was hard put to tell that he
was not awake. For in his dream a stranger came to him and by certain signs roan knew that the
stranger was not a man but a djinn, for his eyes neither white nor iris nor pupil, but were instead
made of flame, but withal he was passing comely to look upon.
Roan, he said. Roan.
That is me, Lord, said Roan for he was a well-mannered youth.
Roan, said the djinn, I have come to tell you of your fortune. Say naught, but listen. You must
leave this city and take ship for the Far Reaches; arriving at the port of Rilmereee you must travel by
camel to Pundondeor, where bad taste is considered a virtue and all men (and women too, if the truth
be known) are improper, indelicate, ribald and obscene, and where they tell the tale of The Day That
Abu Hassan Broke Wind while seated at the dinner table and before the dessert.
From Pundender you must travel on foot down the popply road to Thelicum, where the banditwizards have their court, and from there to Utter Haslet, where the Pittites are, and the Pit. You must
cross the Rutty Mountains until you are come to the bounds of the Calyx Empire. Take horse and from
there to the capital city of Captandum, where you must go to the house of the Emperor wearing red
britches, a green belt, and on you head a purple hat, and great fortune and happiness shall be yours.

At this Road was much amazed, but he said nothing. To prove to you that it is no mere dream,
continued the djinn, I leave you this. And with that he plucked a feather from his turban and placed
it between the youths fingers. Then he vanished, and Roan sank into a dreamless sleep.
As the first fingers of dawn brushed the sky he awoke. That was a strange dream, he though. I
must have been reading too many of the old romances. Then he looked down and saw that between
the fingers of his right hand was a feather, the selfsame feather that the djinn had taken from his
turban.
Oh, thought Roan.
He knew then that it had been no dream, but a true telling of things to come, and straightway he
went down to the harbour to arrange passage on a ship to the Far Reaches.
For if there was one thing that Roan had learned from his books it was that such dreams were not to
be ignored, Although, he thought I do wish that the journey to great fortune were not going to be so
perilous. I have no wish to visit Thelicum or its bandit-wizards, and the tales men tell of Utter Haslet
(not to mention the Pit or the unlikeable Pittities) are not calculated to fill one with pleasure; on the
contrary, in fact.
So saying he sighted and made the preparations to sell his house and all in it save the library,
which he stored at the house of his fathers brother. He had sworn an oath to his father that the library
would never be sold. Due to the speed with which he had to sell he gained only six hundred gold
coins for the sale, of which seventy went at once to the ships captain. He carried some of these coins
in a belt around his waist and the rest in the false bottom of this travelling bag. In the rest of his
travelling bag he had some volumes of poetry and some clothes (amongst which were a purple hat and
red britches); also he took his toothbrush.
Nine days after he dreamed his dream (if dream it truly were) the ship set sail for the Far Reaches,
and Roan stood on the deck and watched the land recede into the horizon. A Sailor came to him,
offering wine to guard against the sea-sickness that can come to travelers.
Sea-sickness laughed Road. Why, when I was a boy I would go out with the fishermen, and
never have I felt or beenbloooughhh!
He watched his lunch blow past in the westerly wind, from which it was eagerly snatched by
passing gulls, washed his mouth out with wine and went below to his cabin. He lay in his bunk and
moaned, sure that he would die and that his quest would be over before it was begun: every lurch and
roll of the ship only served to convince him that his demise was indeed imminent.
Several hours later an even more unpleasant though crossed his mind; perhaps he would not die.
Groaning he pulled the blanket over his head and drifted into a fitful sleep, only to be awakened by
the captain, who had come to see how his sole passenger was faring. Roan mustered what little
strength he had and feebly asked when the storm would subside.
Storms? repeated the captain. Why the sea is as flat as the millpond. We arent likely to get any
storms until we round the Turhian Cape. It can get pretty choppy around the Turhian Cape. he
added with grisly relish, and quite unnecessarily Roan felt.
Even so, within the week he had left his cabin and would wander over the ship getting in the
sailors way. Two or three of them were all for throwing him overboard, but staider heads prevailed,
and in ta while the sailors gre to like himas much as a sailor can like any man that will not drink
rhum, or learn the correct way to tap the maggots out of his sea-biscut-or if no like him, tolerate him

and there was many a dry eye when he walked down the gangplank at Far Reaches, his bag over his
shoulder.
The Port of Rilmeree was cosmopolitan in the extreme. Dark-skinned merchants rubbed shoulders
with fair courtesans (I believe that rubbing shoulders was gesture of affection; anyway its a lot of
fun) and dwarfish Faiorislers haggled with fat-assed amazons. Roan gaped at them all. Three
identical sisters laughed at him.
Hick, they jeered, Hick, hick, hicketty-hick.
Roan made a long nose at them, which convulsed them into giggles, and they passed on down the
street.
He stopped at the stall of a seller of fruit. Where can I find the camel-trains? he asked the man.
If I spent my days answering the questions of itinerant boobies, the sller of fruit replied, I
should starve. However I often give unsolicited information about the city to those who purchase my
fine fruits.
Roan purchased half a dozen pomegranates. The man told him where the Halls of Judgments were
found. Roan purchased a measure of Loy nuts. The man told him where in the city the brothels were
located, and how much he would be expected to pay. Gritting his teeth, Roan purchased a large
melon. The man told him where the street of the gods of the Far Reaches was found, and what
sacrifices were deemed acceptable. Roan drew his dagger and held it to the mans throat.
Where, low miscreant, can I find the camel-trains?
No idea, shrugged the fruit seller.
Then I shall be forced to cut your throat.
The fruit-seller raised an eyebrow. I do not know, he said, but on that wall behind you is a map
of the city. Itll be on there.
There was indeed a map on the wall, and Roan found the Place of the Camel-trains, which was just
outside the Western Gate, with little difficulty. However, whilst he examined the map someone threw
a rotting love-apple at his head,. No-one admitted to the deed when Roan enquired.
Cracking the Loy nuts with his teeth, our hero walked down Shill Street towards the Western Gate.
He gave pennies to the beggars, until he had no more pennies, whereupon he gave them Loy nuts.
Having no teeth with which to crack the nuts the beggar-folk were displeased and, by signaling to
confederates, arranged for buckets of nightsoil to be emptied on Roans head.
When he was in sight of the Western Gate Roan once more spied the three sisters, who giggled and
held their noses in an exaggerated fashion.
Of the five camel-trains at the westerly gate but one was traveling to Pundondor, and it was with
the hetman of that train that Road haggled for the rest of theat afternoon. The hetman was tall, with
pepper-and-salt hair, a halo of white stubble on this dusky chin, and the wine-red nostrils that
proclaimed him a user of shung - that drug that takes a man to strange worlds (and simultaneously
destroys his sense of smell,. In this Roan was fortunate.) They settled on the sum of forty gold pieces
and the melon.
Roan decided that riding a camel was marginally worse than his shipboard experiences, especially
when he lost the tip of the little finger of his right hand to one of the animals.
It was your own fault. I told you to keep your fingers away from his mouth, said the hetman,

wiping his nose on his sleeve.


Roan felt sick most of the time. The insides of his thights were red and crusted with sores; (the tip
of the little finger on his right hand was gone, but luckily didnt get infected); he was covered from
head to food with the bites of ticks, lice and fleas; he was miserable, and only cheered himself up by
thinking of the djinn with the fiery eyes, and fingering the feather, and pondering on the wonderful
future beyond the horizon. The future that awaited him in Captandum, outside the house of the Calyx
Emperor.
Scratching furiously he wondered what it would be. From his extensive readings he could only see
three alternatives:
1) A rich man would see him and adopt him as his son, he would marry the princess and become
Calyx Emperor upon the present incumbents demise.
2) The Calyx Emperor himself would see Roan, adopt him as his son, and upon his death Roan
would marry the princess ad become Emperor himself.
3) The princess herself would upon seeing Roan, fall deeply and all-consumingly in love with him,
refusing to take food or water until Roan was brought to her bed. (Roans ears flushed an
embarrassed red at the thought of this). After a comfortable week or so in bed they would marry, the
Calyx Emperor would shuffle off this mortal coil and Roan in his turn would become Calyx Emperor.
Whichever way you looked at it his prospects were rosy.
In three weeks of bottombusting stomach turning pelf stinging sandburning travel they arrived at
Pundondor, and three days later Roan set off down the popply road to Thelicum. Of Pundondor I will
say nothing. Children may be reaping, or people with weak hearts, and any mention of Pundondor
would be offensive to most: for the men are all cads, bounders and rotters, the women are floozies,
hoydens and frumps; all is coarse and vulgar, tawdry and rude. I shall not tell of the competitions in
the roads from which Roan averted his eyes, nor of the tales that he heard, nor of the practical jokes
that were played on him.
Roan left the city on foot and at night, but he slept in a tree rather than tread the popply road to
Thelicum in the darkness. He made his bag into a pillow, and dreamed the dreams of one who rests
his head upon gold.
At sunrise he set off down the road, which churned and bubbled beneath his feet, roiling and
swirling. Thrice he was all but swallowed up by whirlpools and crevasses that opened up before his
feet. He saw no other travelers.
OOOOOOO, Roan groaned. First the sea, then the camels, the beds of Pundondor, and now this
road that will not stay still and sensible but instead churns and ferments like a rough sea playing at
earthquakes. oooooo.
The popply road grew ever more wild, until all of a sudden it became flat and still and a road like
any other, and before him Roan saw the bulbous towers of Thelicum. These towers were most
strange, being of beaten copper covered with the hides of wild beasts Unusual and disturbing
ululations rent the air and Roan heard the pounding of irregular hoof-beats far down the road.
Yuckaaa! Yucjalalalalakaaa! shouted the bandit-wizards, thudding down the road towards him,
all mounted on five-legged donkeys and waving their swords over their heads in a menacing fashion.
They encircled Roan, then dragged him back to Thelicum with them, bound to the underside of a
five legged donkey, the earth scraping the shirt and the skin from his back.

Yuckaaaa! Yucjalalalalakaaa! screamed their captive as a particularly large rock raked the
length of his back.
In this fashion did Roan of Melkarn come to the city of Thelicum.
And in the city of Thelicum Roan was imprisoned for the first time on his travels, in a deep dark
dank dungeon where the light of day was never seen, and green glommy things oozed down the walls
and the rats had aqualungs and the frogs wore fur coats; and Roan was disconsolate. Oh, what an
unhappy wretch I am, he sobbed. for my bag (containing not only my red britches and purple hat,
but also some slim volumes of poetry and my financial reserves, excluding those concealed
elsewhere) has been taken from me, and I shall die in these uncongenial surroundings and I shall
never get to Captandum, nor ever find my fortune. Oh lackaday, miseree.
Did I hear tha say that them grollockin knavies ha a-took of tha slim volumes of poetry?
croaked a voice from a dark corner.
Sorry? asked Roan, unable to understand a word.
The scrummtin futtocks mun taken tha poetry, tha said, ifnn oi aheard thee aright.
Roan nodded, then realizing that a nod was a useless as any other inaudible gesture in that stygian
blackness said Yes. They did.
That mun be a shame, reckon. Tes a terrible thing when a man baint keep his own poetry,
ruminated the voice.
Please sir, who are you?
Ai lad, tha baint needs to say sir to such as oi, though oncet men would bend they over
backwards as to say sir to Domesday Threshers son. Oi be but a prisoner, belike to the self.
But who are you?
The voice breathed a slow, sad sigh. once, said the voice. When an before tha were a
fingerling youth, oi were him as builded this city, him as turned it from a little village as we called
Lesser Grommets (so as to distinguish it from Upper Grommets, Grommet-on-the-World, Grommetin-they-Marshes, and feculent Grommetton) to this ere Thelicum, that were a fine city in its day, oi
tell ee. Baint it be the truth.
You mean that you were a bandit-wizard?
Were, lad? Were? I were the greatest of the bandit-wizardses-aye, and oi be that still, were truth
known, which it baint, on account of they scunnet-faced boggers that do ave a-locked of old
Barnsman Thresher under earth, and under stone, and under cold, cold iron. Oi makes up poems,
know thee.
Roan made a certain noise in the back of his throat, one that expressed interste and pleasure at this
news but did not actually ask for a recital.
Aye, oi makes up poetry, often about the cruel captivity oive been subjected to these five-andtwenty years. Come Lammas-tide. That were why my heart misgave within me when oi heard tha say
as they had tooken away tha slim volumes of poetry. Tes a cruel and scandalous thing that oi maun
never allow to happen when oi were king. Even if we be lockin summun up in the dark, even if we
be a-scollocking off of his head or his alleytaws, or even a-sacrificing mun to dhe dark gods, mun
could keep his slim volumes of poetry. Tes terrible times as ave come to Thelicum, he concluded.
Roan Sympathized.

Nay, lad. Dinna tha worry about old Barnsman Thresher. For Barnsman Thresher do have
summat up is sleeve that not even they clettering cokalorum upstairs do wot of. Watch.
An eerie green light illuminated the dungeon, revealing a wizened old man crouched in a corner.
For five -and-twenty eyars have I waited and bided my time, planning my revenge; and tonight the
time be here. Chemash! Milcom! Abiram! Korah! Dathan! Atroapos, Atrapos, Atrapos!
There was a low rumbling far under the ground.
Earthquake! hissed Barnsman Thresher. They baint heard the last of Domesday Threshers son.
And then, in a different tone of voice he added:
Oi had a hell-hound,
Awuffy, fluffly hell-houdn,
Oi called my hell-houd
Mortimer Fang.
But Nan said it were naughty,
Nan said it were nasty,
The night oi made my fluffly,
wuffy
hound
go
BANG!
That be from my forthcoming work, as oive entitled, albeit tentatively, When We Be Very
Nasty, it be, said Barnsman Thresher, as the wall on their left fell in.
Together they clambered out of the dungeon and up into the palace. Roans bag lay on a table in an
anteroom, and he slung it over his shoulder as they went into the street. All around them people were
running and scraming.
Oi mun told them as no good would come of a-locking up of Domesday Threshers son. Oi mun
told they golluppy skillets, the old man remarked with gloomy satisfaction.
Roan thanked him for all his help and, after presenting him with on of the volumes of poetry,
enquired after the road to Utter Haslet. The old man shook his head.
You maun dont want to go there, lad, he said. A terrible place, that is. Still, boys will be boys
and youth must have its fling. Aye, were every goose a swan, lad, and every dog its day .
A large chunk of masonry fell from a nearby building, missing them by scant inches.
It be a-down that way, past the blasted oak and left at the old gibbet. But be tha sure tha do not
want to stay for un volcano that do be a-coming? Oi allus enjoy a good volcano.
Roan apologized, thanked the old man once more, and set off down the road that ex-king Barnsman
had pointed to.
He seemed a kindly old soul, thought our here, but I wish I had been able to understand what he
was talking about. And with his bag over his shoulder he hurried on down the road, frequently
passed by worried men and women on five-legged donkeys.
The volcano was not very impressive when it finally occurred.

Utter Haslet came in sight two days later, nestling at the foot of the Rutty Mountains. Roan was
painfully hungry, and the skin on his back stung and burned and chafed, and his other injuries (both to
his body and pride) were little better. He had originally intended to avoid Utter Haslet if possible,
but he was tired and hungry.
And did the djinn not say that my future awaits me in Captandum? thought Roan. Despite all that
I have gone through I still live, and I am sure that nothing in Utter Haslet could be worse than the
indignities I have already been put to. So saying he strode into the town of Utter Haslet, found an inn,
had lunch and slept the clock around in a goose-feather bed.
On awakening he went down to the inn and ordered more food, which was set before him. The
room was empty, save for a tall, dour man clad all in blakck, who stood by the door. Roan invited
him to partake of the luncheon.
Eat with you? echoed the stranger. Aye, that I will. And he seated himself at Roans table,
although he ate but sparingly of the food thereon.
Roans attention was caught by a golden trinket around the strangers neck. It was fashioned in the
shape of something that was neither spider nor jellyfish nor yet a woman, but reminded Roan of first
one and then another. He commented on it to the saturnine stranger, who made a pious sign with his
hands.
What is its significance? asked Roan.
That is one of the Mysteries of the Pit, but withal you will know soon enough, said his guest.
I take it that you are a Pittite, said our hero courteously.
Aye, I am one of the Sons of the Pit.
Roan pored himself a generous measure of wine. And what does that mean?
It means that I am of the elect, and that it is my task to greet visitors to Utter Haslet, and to give
them the opportunity of learning of the Mystery of the Pit, and of becoming ingested into its
Mysteries. The stranger drew a long, straight sword and put the tip of it to our beleaguered heros
throat. I thank you for the food, stranger, he said grimly. Now, come.
Roan picked up his bag and followed the Son of the Pit. On the far side of town they came to a
deep pit, blacker than midnight and stark as a grave.
At the edge of that pit they paused. A score of the drab-clad Pittites, all tall and unsmiling, stood
around gazing into the deaths of the pit with intent, unblinking eyes.
Would I be correct in assuming, asked Roan of his captor, that the image that you wear around
your neck is a representation of something that, uh, resides in the Pit?
The Son of Pit nodded.
Roan paled.
Howhow big is it?
The tall man shrugged. it is written in the Book of the Pit, And behold, I shall come out of the
nether caverns and I shall take my place in the Pit. And my hunger shall be great, and my needs shall
not be insignificant. Of eyes shall I have sight, and of limbs I shall have eight, and on the flesh of men
shall I feed me. And my size shall be that of an elephant, only bigger.
Great, said Roan.

The Pittites knotted a hefty rope around Roans chest and lowered him into the Pit.
The Pit was deep, and Roan was most uncomfortable as they lowered him into it. The rope burned
his skin, and often he would be swung against the sides. When one particularly large outcrop of rock
had almost claimed his brains he called up, Hey! Sons of the Pit! If you want me to reach the bottom
of your Pit alive you had better take more care! After that there was a lighter touch on the rope, and
he reached the bottom without serious mishap.
The pit floor was so far below the surface that Roan could see the night sky and constellation of the
Hanged Man far above, though it was noon and all daylight outside, and he had seen no stars above
the ground. The Pit floor was of undressed stone, with a scattering of bones, clothes and swords -many of them partly chewed or dissolved--that lay higgledy-piggledy on the floor.
I do not like the looks of this, Roan muttered, and the sight of the Dweller in the Pit scuttling
discreetly from behind one boulder to the next did nothing to reassure him. Quite how many legs and
eyes it had Roan could not tell in the gloom, however it was unquestionably the size of an elephant,
only bigger.
It moved almost soundlessly, a segment of deeper black in the inky shadows. A scuttering, then
silence. Roan re-assured himself by telling himself that he had had a dream and a feather that made
his survival a virtual certainty; however he was not very convincing, and when something brushed his
face he gave himself up for dead. Another scuttering in a far corner caught his attention.
Either there is more than one of these Things, he though, or else it was not the foot (or worse) of
a Thing that brushed my cheek.
He turned slowly to discover the rope, which was being slowly hauled up and out of the Pit by the
grim gentlemen above. The rope was now almost a foot over his head, and he caught held of it with
both hands and gripped it tightly. At once it stopped moving upwards.
Frustrate me, would you? muttered Roan. Well, even if you wont haul me out of this blasted Pit
I can still climb! and he started to the floor of the Pit once more. Caitiff, degenerate, rotten
blighters! he shouted. Pandering, perverted, scabstinking words failed him briefly
grollocking knavies!
And with that he seized the rope and gave it the strongest tug he could, to let the Sons of the Pit
know exactly what he thought of them. From the corner of his eye he noticed something a little like a
spider and little like a jellyfish and somewhat like to a woman had taken advantage of his inattention
to slip further towards him. He noticed also that the rock was dissolving and smoking where the
dripping ichor from the beasts jaws touched it. Roan gave himself up for the dead again, sat down and
prepared to meet his doom.
There was sound from far above him.
The rope started to pour and coil onto the floor of the Pit.
Squinting upwards, Roan made out three rapidly falling shapes and he guessed, correctly as it
turned out, that his final tug on the rope had had more effect on the sons of the Pit than Roan had
dreamed.
The Pittites spattered onto the floor, each with his own distinctive thud, and the Dweller scittered
away. She waited for almost a minute, her luminous eyes staring out of the shadows, until she felt sure
that this was no trick but a genuine windfall, scittered back and proceeded to devour her erstwhile
worshippers. She was half way through the third when she noticed that the living sacrifice had gone,

probably down one of the myriad tunnels that honeycombed that base of the Pit. She gave the spideryjellyfish equivalent of a shrug and returned to her dessert.
Roan ran without stopping for mile after mile along dark and narrow tunnels, always choosing
those that sloped upwards, often stumbling and falling and skinning his knees and hands and knocking
his head, his heart thumping in his ears and threatening to burst out of his chest. He was panting and
sweating. He ached in his legs and chest.
When finally he saw the light of day at the end of a tunnel he fell upon his knees and gave thanks to
every god from Abiros to Zyxwths, many demigods, and also his djinn. He left the tunnel and found
himself on a ledge, high in the Rutty Mountains and gazing down on the tiny town of Utter Haslet,
doll-like far below him.
Wrapping himself in a coat from his bag (which he had kept by his side-though all his vicissitudes),
he set himself against the wind and trudge off, up and over the Rutty Mountains. The wind blew
colder and colder, and the trees and bushes more and more sparse. Frost bite caught at his
extremities, and apart from a couple of snow-rabbits he found little food in his travels. It was only by
somehow dragging his aching body onwards that Roan had prevented himself from freezing to death.
He slept in caves and in the crooks of trees, covered with all his clothes, his feet in his traveling bag.
Five days he was in the mountains, and at the end of the fifth day he reached a small inn that marked
the bounds of the Calyx Empire, and he stayed there recuperating for over a week. Through rare good
fortune he had lost no body-parts from the frost-bite, and as soon as he was able he set out for
Captandum, mounted on a zebra-striped stallion.
He found the horse for easier to ride than the camel had been.
Captandum, the capital city, was almost four-score farsakh off, and even by horse this was several
weeks travel, Roan found his store of money dwindling fast, especially after a week and a halfs
travel when the zebra-striped stallion took cold and died, forcing him not only to purchase a
replacement, but also to pay for the horses funeral. A very expensive affair.
When he arrived in the Calyx city of Captandum, mounted on a dapple-gray mare, he had but two
hundred and fifty gold coins left.
In all his travels Roan had seen nothing to compare with Captandum of the tranced towers, for the
very cobbles of the street were sem-precious stones such as amethysts, and chaleedony, and rainbow
obsidien; white were the buildings, with golden balconies, on which the young folk of the city
lounged, playing on silver lyres; the merchantrs each had wide and spacious stores in which their
wares were tastefully displayed - jewels in great barrels and wines in lambent carafes; right nobly
were the gentlefolk dressed, and man-coloured waterfalls played down the sides of buildings.
Roan donned his red britches and green belt and purple hat in a nearby convenience, then tehtered
his horse and took up his vigil outside the ohouse of the Calyx Emperor, which was no house but a
palace.
Now it iso happened that a scant week before this the daughter of the Calyx Emperor had dreamed
a dream, and in this dream she was instructed thus: That a black-haried youth from far-off His (of the
seven deserts), wearing red britches, a green belt, and a purple hat would come to the palace; that he
was fated to be her hustband, and, through his wisdom, the saviour of The Calyx Empire in a time of
great need. She related this dream to her father and to the court magician, and the court magician
adjudged it a true dream from certain signs and portents. Thus it was that each day the Princess
Telalela and her father the Calyx Emperor, and the court magician would stroll around the palace. For

seven days there had been no-one that answered her dreams description, but on this day, as they
approached the main gate, they caught sight of Roan.
Tell me, said the princess to the court magician. What colour is his hat?
Purple, and it please your majesty.
And what colour are his britches?
Red, and it please your majesty.
And what colour is his belt?
His belt is green, and it please your majesty.
It is he! she hissed, and her father and the magician nodded.
Roan watched the procession approach. The court magician, a white-haired sage in a long brown
gown inscribed with goetic signs, left the other two and coame over to him. I greet you, traveler.
How do you call yourself, and from whence do you come?
My name is Roan, and I have come from Melkarn. replied our hero.
And--hum, ha, --where is Melkarn?
In Hla (of the seven deserts).
The magician covertly signalled to the Emperor and the princess making a circle of his thum and
first finger.
And what is your profession, young man?
I am a scholar, sire.
The magician was satisfied, and he gestured for the Calyx Emperor and the princess to join them.
Roan was struck dumb when he saw the princess, and when she smiled at him his heart almost
forgot to beat. Her eyes, he thought, are twin stars; her mouth a rosebud; her breasts are twin doves
and her hair was spun from the stuff of the sun itself. All this he thought, and more, and like one in a
dream he dropped to one knee and doffed his purple hat.
The princess looked like someone had just slapped her with a herring.
Look! she exclaimed. His hair!
For Roans hairs was a deep and rusty red.
A trick, muttered the court magician, who hated to be wrong.
Make a fool of us, would he? enquired the Calyx Emperor Himself. Take him down to the
deepest dungeon, starve him until Thursday, torture him all weekend, and well have a public
execution Monday lunchtime. In the Square of the Scented Nightingales.
Guards sprang forth, seemingly from nowhere, threw Roan to the ground and then dragged him off
to the deepest dungeon, where, alone and friendless, he was immured.
He lay on the floor of the cell, his bag serving him once more as a pillow, a thin trickles of dark
blood oozing from his nose and from the corner of his mouth. There is something unfair about this,
he mourned. I have been sea-sick, covered in ordure, bitten by camel, flea, tick and louse, subjected
to the indignities of Pundondor, rocked on the popply road, tied to the underside of a five-legged
donkey, imprisoned, earthquaked, almost volcanoed, flung into a pit, almost eaten byt the Thing in the
Pit, hurt, lost underground, frozen in the high mountains, starved, sold an unsound horse, lost most of

my money, and finally, when my recompense and reward was nigh I have been thrown into a deep and
disgusting dungeon (and, I should add, grossly mishandled by the guards) where I now face impending
torture, starvation and death. It is not just, neither is it fair.
Plunging his hands into his bag he found a bedraggled feather, which he gripped tightly, and then
reciting to himself certain words he had learned from his fathers manuscripts in those faraway days
in Melkarn, he drifted into a lucid sleep.
In his dream the djinn of the fiery eyes stood before him. You called? yawned the djinn.
Roan briefly outlined his situation.
The djinn shook his head. I cant understand it, he pondered. Youre meant to have black hair. It
isnt well, a sort of reddish-black, is it?
Of course not! exclaimed Roan. Its red as a brick, and always has been. Cant you see?
Nope, apologized the djinn. Its one of the liabilities of having flames for eyes. Color-blind.
Even so he fumbled in this pouch and pulled out a scroll. mmm, mm mm here we are.
Visit Roan son of Frayne -- thats youTell him to leave Melkarn and take ship for the Far
Reaches
It isnt me! interrupted Roan.
Of course its you, corrected the djinn. Now where was I? Oh yes, take ship for the Far
Reaches; arriving at the port of Rilmeree .
It isnt me! Im Roan son of Strepitus!
The djinn gazed down at Roan with fiery eyes, sighed, then rolled up the scroll and put it away.
Eblis! he swore. The wrong blasted address. And on my first job too. He pulled a lace
handkerchief from his pouch and dabbed at his eyes, then sniffed, saying, I hope youre satisfied
thats all. I hope youre pleased with yourself. Trophanie only knows what kind of trouble Ill get
into! He waved his hands and vanished in a puff of green smoke, from which an anguished wail of I
just hope youre satisfied! drifted and hung in the air.
It wasnt my fault, muttered Roan, but he was alone in a cold dungeon and no-one was there to
hear. There was no justice in the world, he thought. Nobody had been looking out for him on his
journey. He could have been killed half a hundred times. He looked down at his missing fingertip and
dropped one silent tear.
Then he got up, opened the false bottom to his bag, attracted a jailor and by means of extensive
bribery escaped from the palace and the glorious city of Captandum. (The Calyx Emperor was
satisfied by the death of a red-harried man in the Square of the Scented Nightingales). By foot, and at
night, Roan made his way to the foot of the Rutty Mountains, which he crossed, In Utter Haslet he
narrowly avoided being flung once more into the Pit, while at Thelicum he spent an unpleasant couple
of weeks in the form of a toad, only being retransformed by an accidental spell during the mage war
between Barnsman Thresher and his Oldest son, Seth. His naked flight down the popply road from
Thelicum to Pundondor and the indignities he was subjected to in the latter crass city I shall draw a
veil over. From Pundondor he travelled (once more by camel) to Rilmeree (losing a fingertip on the
way, this time from his left hand) in which city he was beaten up and his last money stolen. Three
identical sisters mocked him in the streets. Forced to work his passage back to Melkarn, he fared no
better than on the previous see-voyage - worse, in fact, for great storms arose around the Turhian
coast, and the sailors adjudging him a bringer of ill-fortune (primarily due to his avoidance of Rhum

and his inability to learn the correct way to tap the maggots from his sea-biscuits) tossed him
overboard. That the ship was struck immediately after by ball-lightning, killing all on board and
breaking the ship up into driftwood (some of which kept Roans head above the water until he was
picked up by a Vandarian trawler, the sole survivor) did little to cheer him up. He fared slightly
better on the trawler, although he was unable ever again to eat fish, and on the morning of this twentythird birthday -- though he did not know it -- he walked down the gangplank in Melkarn, his home
city, and he came to the house of his fathers brother.
All were overjoyed to see him, having given him up as one dead, and also they were amazed: for
here was no longer the pallid scholar of bygone days. Here was a sun-bronzed, scarred and worldlywise man. And Roan sold the books and manuscripts that he had left with his uncle, and with the
moneys that he obtained he purchased a small shop in the Pale Quarter, and in this shop he sold
amulets. And his affairs prospered, and soon Roan the merchant had three of the shops, and later, ten.
And as his affairs flourished and prospered so Roan the merchant became interested in politicking,
and he ended his days the Mayor of Melkarn, his sons and grandsons around his bed, and with great
lamentation of servants and womenfolk.
One may assume that there is a moral in there somewhere.

JERUSALEM
will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand
Till we have built Jerusalem
In Englands green and pleasant land.
William Blake.

Jerusalem, thought Morris, was like a deep pool, where time had settled too thickly. It had engulfed
him, engulfed both of them, and he could feel the pressure of time pushing him up and out. Like
swimming down too deep.
He was glad to be out of it.
Tomorrow he would go back to work once more. Work was good. It would give him something to
focus on. He turned on the radio and then, mid-song, turned it off.
I was enjoying that, said Pamela. She was cleaning the fridge, throwing out the wilted lettuce and
sour milk from before their holiday and filling it with fresh food.
Im sorry. He couldnt think straight, with the music playing. He needed the silence.
Morris closed his eyes and he was back in Jerusalem, feeling the desert heat on his face, staring at
the old city and understanding, for the first time, how small it all was. That the real Jerusalem, two
thousand years ago, was smaller than an English country town.
Their guide, a lean, leathery woman, pointed. Thats where the sermon on the mount would have
been given. Thats where Jesus was arrested. He was imprisoned there. Tried before Pilate there, at
the far end of the Temple. Crucified on that hill. She pointed matter-of-factly down the slopes and
up again. It was a few hours walk at most.
Pamela took photos. She and their guide had hit it off immediately. Morris had not wanted to visit
Jerusalem. He had wanted to go to Greece for his holidays, but Pamela had insisted. Jerusalem was
biblical, she told him. It was part of history.
They walked through the old town, starting in the Jewish quarter. Stone steps. Closed shops. Cheap
souvenirs. A man walked past them wearing a huge black fur hat, and a thick coat. Morris winced.
He must be boiling.
Its what they used to wear in Russia, said the guide. They wear it here. The fur hats are for
holidays. They carry Russia with them, wherever they go. Of course they are too hot, but they do not
know any other way.
Pamela put a cup of tea down in front of him. Penny for your thoughts, she said.
Remembering the holiday.
You dont want to brood on it, she said. Best to let it go. Why dont you take the dog for a
walk?
He drank the tea. The dog looked at him expectantly when he went to put the lead on it, as if it were
about to say something. Come on boy, said Morris.
The dog pulled him down the avenue, heading for the Heath. It was green. Jerusalem had been
golden: a city of sand and rock. They had walked from the Jewish quarter to the Moslem Quarter,

passing bustling shops piled high with sweet things to eat, with fruits and bright clothes. Morris
looked at it in wonder.
Jerusalem Syndrome? Never heard of it, Pamela was saying. Have you ever heard of it,
Morrie?
Sorry, I was miles away, said Morris. What does that mean? That door, with all the stencils on
it?
Without glancing round the guide replied, Its to welcome someone back from a pilgrimage to
Mecca
There you go, said Pamela. For us, it was going to Jerusalem. Someones always going
somewhere. Even in the Holy Land, theres pilgrims. So, you were saying, she said to the guide.
The wife comes back from a shopping trip and theres the sheets gone.
Exactly, said the guide. Happens more often than youd think. She went to the front desk, and
told them she had no idea where the husband was.
Pamela put her hand around Morriss arm, as if assuring herself that he was still there. And where
was he?
He had Jerusalem Syndrome. They found him on the street corner, wearing nothing but a toga - the
sheets. He was preaching normally about being good, obeying God. Loving each other.
Come to Jerusalem and go mad, said Morris. Not much of an advertising slogan.
Their guide looked at him sternly. It is, she said, with what Morris thought might actually be
pride, the only location-specific mental illness. And it is the only easily curable mental illness. You
know what the cure is?
Take away their sheets?
The guide hesitated. Then she smiled. Close. You take the person out of Jerusalem. They get better
immediately.
Afternoon, said the duffle-coated man at the end of his road. Theyd been nodding to each other
for eleven years now. Bit of a tan. Been on holiday, have we?
Jerusalem, said Morris.
Brrr. Wouldnt catch me going there. Get blown up or kidnapped soon as look at you. See
anything interesting?
Morris hesitated. Then he said, We went down to an underground, um. He lost the word.
Water storage place. From Herods time. They stored the rainwater underground, so it wouldnt
evaporate. A hundred years ago you could row a boat through underground Jerusalem.
The lost word hovered at the edge of his consciousness like a hole in a dictionary. Two syllables,
begins with a C, means deep echoing underground place where they store water.
Well, then, said his neighbour.
The Heath was green and it rolled in gentle slopes, interrupted by oak and beech, by chestnut and
poplar. He imagined a world in which England was divided, and London was a city crusaded against,
lost and won and lost again, over and over.
Perhaps, he thought, it isnt madness. Perhaps the cracks are just deeper in Jerusalem, or the sky
is thin enough that you can hear, when God talks to His prophets. But nobody stops to listen any

longer. Its a deep place like a


Cistern, he said, aloud, to nobody.
The green of the heath became dry and golden, in his memory, and the heat was like the opening of
an oven door. It was as if he had never left.
My feet hurt, Pamela had announced. And then, Im going back to the hotel.
Their guide looked concerned.
I just want to put my feet up for a bit, said Pamela. Its all so much to take in. The Christ prison
shop sold souvenirs and carpets. Ill bathe my feet. You two carry on without me. Pick me up after
lunch.
Morris would have argued, but they had hired the guide for the whole day. Her skin was dark and
weathered. She had an extraordinarily white smile, when she smiled. She led him to a caf.
So, said Morris. Business good?
We do not see as many tourists, she said. Not since the second Intifada began.
Pamela. My wife. Shes always wanted to come here. See the holy sights.
We have so many of them here. Whatever you believe. Christian or Muslim or Jew. Its still the
Holy City.
I suppose you must be looking forward to them sorting all this out, he said. Er. The Palestinian
situation. The politics.
She shrugged. It doesnt matter to Jerusalem. They come. They believe. Then they kill each other,
to prove that God loves them best. Sometimes, she said, I think it would be best if it was bombed
back to a radioactive desert. Then who would want it? But then I think, they would still come here
and collect the radioactive dust that might contain atoms of the Dome of the Rock, or of the Temple,
or a wall that Christ leaned against on his way to the Cross. People would fight over who owns a
poisonous desert, if that desert was Jerusalem.
Morris shifted, uncomfortably.
You should be glad there is no Jerusalem where you come from. Nobody wants to partition
London. Nobody goes on pilgrimages to the holy city of Liverpool. No prophets walked in
Birmingham. Your country is too young. It is still green. There is no Holy Madness.
Englands not young.
They have been fighting about who owns this city for over 3000 years, when King David took it in
battle from the Jebusites.
He was drowning in the Time, could feel it crushing him, like an ancient forest being crushed into
oil.
She said, Do you have any children?
The question took Morris by surprise. We wanted kids. It didnt work out that way. Too late,
now.
Is she looking for a miracle, your wife? They do, sometimes.
No. She has .faith, he said. Ive tried to believe, but I cant. I cant make the jump. Sometimes
I think if I could everything would be different. Better, perhaps. He sipped his coffee. Are you

married?
I lost my husband.
Was it a bomb?
The guide smiled faintly. An American tourist. From Seattle.
They finished their coffee. Shall we see how your wifes feet are doing? she said.
As they walked up the narrow street, towards the hotel, Morris said, Im lonely. I work at a job I
dont enjoy and come home to a wife who loves me but doesnt much like me, and some days it feels
like I cant move and that all I want is for the whole world to go away. And its all so normal. Every
days the same.
The guide waited in the lobby of the hotel while Morris went up to his room. He was, somehow,
not surprised in the least to see that Pamela was not in the bedroom, or in the tiny bathroom, and that
the sheets that had been on the bed that morning were now gone.
His dog could have walked the heath forever, but Morris was getting tired and a fine rain was
drizzling. They walked back though a green world. A green and pleasant world, he thought, knowing
that wasnt quite right. His head was like a filing cabinet that had fallen downstairs, and all the
information in it was jumbled and disordered.
They had finally caught up with Pamela on the Via Dolo-rosa. She wore a sheet, yes, but she
seemed intent, not mad. She was calm, frighteningly so.
Everything is love, she was telling the people. Everything is Jerusalem. God is love. Jerusalem
is love.
A tourist took a photograph, but the locals ignored her. Morris put his hand on her arm. Come on
love, he said. Lets go home.
She looked through him. He wondered what she was seeing. She said, We are home. In this place
the walls of the world are thin. We can hear Him calling to us, through the walls. Listen. You can hear
Him. Listen!
Pamela did not fight or even protest as they led her back to the hotel. She did not look like a
prophet. She looked like a woman in her late forties wearing nothing but a sheet. Morris suspected
that their guide was amused, but when he caught her eyes he could see only concern.
They drove from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv, and it was on the beach in front of their hotel, after
sleeping for almost 24 hours, that Pamela came back, only slightly confused, with little memory of the
previous day. He tried to talk to her about what he had seen, about what she had said, but stopped
when he saw it was upsetting her. They pretended that it had not happened, did not mention it again.
Sometimes he wondered what it must have felt like inside her head, that day, hearing the voice of
God through the golden-coloured stones. But, he told himself, over and over, it was better not to
know. Wasnt it?
He was glad they were back in England, where there was not enough Time to crush you, to
suffocate you, to make you dust.
Morris walked the dog back up the avenue in the drizzle, past the trees in the pavement, past the
neat front gardens and the fading summer flowers and the perfect green of the lawns, and he felt cold.
He knew she would be gone even before he turned the corner, before he saw the open front door
banging in the wind.

He would follow her. And, he knew, almost joyfully, sooner or later, he would find her.
This time he would listen. He would believe, if he could, and if he could not believe he would
pretend to himself that he did so hard that it would not matter. Wherever it was that they were going,
they would go forward together.

F EMININE ENDINGS
My darling,
let us begin this letter, this prelude to an encounter, formally, as a declaration, in the old-fashioned
way: I love you. You do not know me (although you have seen me, smiled at me, placed coins in the
palm of my hand). I know you (although not so well as I would like. I want to be there when your eyes
flutter open in the morning, and you see me, and you smile. Surely this would be paradise enough?).
So I do declare myself to you now, with pen set to paper. I declare it again: I love you.
I write this in English, your language, a language I also speak. My English is good. I was for many
years ago in England and in Scotland. I spent a whole summer standing in Covent Garden, except for
the month of Edinburgh Festival, when I am in Edinburgh. People who put money in my box in
Edinburgh included Mr Kevin Spacey the actor, and Mr Jerry Springer the American television star
who was in Edinburgh for an Opera about his life.
I have put off writing this for so long, although I have wanted to, although I have composed it many
times in my head. Shall I write about you? About me?
First you.
I love your hair, long and red. The first time I saw you I believed you to be a dancer, and I still
believe that you have a dancers body. The legs, and the posture, head up and back. It was your smile
that told me you were a foreigner, before ever I heard you speak. In my country we smile in bursts,
like the sun coming out and illuminating the fields and then retreating again behind a cloud too soon.
Smiles are valuable here. But you smiled all the time, as if everything you saw delighted you. You
smiled the first time you saw me, even wider than before. You smiled and I was lost, like a small
child in a great forest, never to find its way home again.
I learned when young that the eyes give too much away. Some in my profession adopt dark
spectacles, or even (and these I scorn with bitter laughter as amateurs) masks that cover the whole
face. What good is a mask? My solution is that of full-sclera theatrical contact lenses, purchased from
an American website for a little under 500 Euros, which cover the whole eye. They are dark grey, or
course, and look like stone. They have made me more than $500 Euros, paid for themselves over and
over.
You may think, given my profession, that I must be poor, but you would be wrong. Indeed, I fancy
that you will be surprised by how much I have collected. My needs have been small and my earnings
always very good.
Except when it rains.
Sometimes even when it rains. The others as perhaps you have observed, my love, retreat when it
rains, raise umbrellas, run away. I remain where I am. Always. I simply wait, unmoving. It all adds to
the conviction of the performance.
And it is a performance, as much as when I was a theatrical actor, a magicians assistant, even a
dancer. (That is how I am so familiar with the bodies of dancers.) Always, I was aware of the
audience as individuals. I have found this with all actors and all dancers, except the short-sighted
ones for whom the audience is a blur. My eyesight is good, even through the contact lenses.
Did you see the man with the moustache in the third row? we would say. He is staring at Minou
with lustful glances.

And Minou would reply, Ah yes. But the woman on the aisle, who looks like the German
Chancellor, she is now fighting to stay awake. If one person falls asleep, you can lose the whole
audience, so we play the rest of the evening to a middle-aged woman who wishes only to succumb to
drowsiness.
The second time you stood near me you were so close I could smell your shampoo. It smelled like
flowers and fruit. I imagine America as being a whole continent full of women who smell of flowers
and fruit. You were talking to a young man from the university. You were complaining about the
difficulties of our language for an American. I understand what gives a man or a woman gender,
you were saying. But what makes a chair masculine or a pigeon feminine? Why should a statue have
a feminine ending?
The young man laughed and pointed straight at me, then. But truly, if you are walking through the
square, you can tell nothing about me. The robes look like old marble, water-stained and time-worn
and lichened. The skin could be granite. Until I move I am stone and old bronze, and I do not move if I
do not want to. I simply stand.
Some people wait in the square for much too long, even in the rain, to see what I will do. They are
uncomfortable not knowing, only happy once they have assured themselves that I am natural, not
artificial. It is the uncertainty that traps people, like a mouse in a glue-trap.
I am writing about myself too much. I know that this is a letter of introduction as much as it is a
love letter. But I should write about you. Your smile. Your eyes so green. (You do not know the true
colour of my eyes. I will tell you. They are brown.) You like classical music, but you have also Abba
and Kid Loco on your iPod Nano. You wear no perfume. Your underwear is, for the most part, faded
and comfortable, although you have a single set of red-lace bra and panties which you wear for
special occasions.
People watch me in the square, but the eye is only attracted by motion. I have perfected the tiny
movement, so tiny that the passer can scarcely tell if it is something he saw or not. Yes? Too often
people will not see what does not move. The eyes see it but do not see it, they discount it. I am
human-shaped, but I am not human. So in order to make them see me, to make them look at me, to stop
their eyes from sliding off me and paying me no attention, I am forced to make the tiniest motions, to
draw their eyes to me. Then, and only then, do they see me. But they do not always know what they
have seen.
I see you as a code to be broken, or as a puzzle to be cracked. Or a jig-saw puzzle, to be put
together. I walk through your life, and I stand motionless at the edge of my own life. My own gestures,
statuesque, precise, are too often misinterpreted. I love you. I do not doubt this.
You have a younger sister. She has a myspace account, and a facebook account. We talk
sometimes. All too often people assume that a medieval statue exists only in the fifteenth century. This
is not so true: I have a room, I have a laptop. My computer is passworded. I practice safe computing.
Your password is your first name. That is not safe. Anyone could read your email, look at your
photographs, reconstruct your interests from your web history. Someone who was interested and who
cared could spend endless hours building up a complex schematic of your life, matching the people in
the photographs to the names in the emails, for example. It would not be hard reconstructing a life
from a computer, or from cellphone messages, like a crossword puzzle.
I remember when I actually admitted to myself that you had taken to watching me, and only me, on
your way across the square. You paused. You admired me. You saw me move once, for a child, and

you told a friend, loud enough to be heard, that I might be a real statue. I take it as the highest
compliment. I have many different styles of movement, of course I can move like clockwork, in a set
of tiny jerks and stutters, I can move like a robot or an automaton. I can move like a statue coming to
life after hundreds of years of being stone.
Within my hearing you have spoken of the beauty of this small city. How standing inside the
stained-glass confection of the old church was like being imprisoned inside a kaleidoscope of jewels.
It was like being in the heart of the sun. You are concerned about your mothers illness.
When you were an undergraduate you worked as a cook, and your fingertips are covered with the
scar-marks of a thousand tiny knife-cuts.
I love you, and it is my love for you that drives me to know all about you. The more I know the
closer I am to you. You were to come to my country with a young man, but he broke your heart, and
you came here to spite him, and still you smiled. I close my eyes and I can see you smiling. I close my
eyes and I see you striding across the town square in a clatter of pigeons. The women of this country
do not stride. They move diffidently, unless they are dancers. And when you sleep your eyelashes
flutter. The way your cheek touches the pillow. The way you dream.
I dream of dragons. When I was a small child, at the home, they told me that there was a dragon
beneath the old city. I pictured the dragon wreathing like black smoke beneath the buildings,
inhabiting the cracks between the cellars, insubstantial and yet always present. That is how I think of
the dragon, and how I think of the past, now. A black dragon made of smoke. When I perform I have
been eaten by the dragon and have become part of the past. I am, truly, seven hundred years old.
Kings may come and kings may go. Armies arrive and are absorbed or return home again, leaving
only damage and bastard children behind them, but the statues remain, and the dragon of smoke, and
the past.
I say this, although the statue that I emulate is not from this town at all. It stands in front of a church
in southern Italy, where it is believed either to represent the sister of John the Baptist, or a local lord
who endowed the church to celebrate not dying of the plague, or the angel of death.
I had imagined you perfectly chaste, my love, yet one time the red lace panties were pushed to the
bottom of your laundry hamper, and upon close examination I was able to assure myself that you had,
unquestionably, been unchaste the previous evening. Only you know who with, for you did not talk of
the incident in your letters home, or allude to it in your online Journal.
A small girl looked up at me once, and turned to her mother, and said Why is she so unhappy? (I
translate into English for you, obviously. The girl was referring to me as a statue and thus she used the
feminine ending.)
Why do you believe her to be unhappy?
Why else would people make themselves into statues?
Her mother smiled. Perhaps she is unhappy in love, she said.
I was not unhappy in love. I was prepared to wait until everything was ready, something very
different.
There is time. There is always time. It is the gift I took from being a statue. One of the gifts, I
should say.
You have walked past me and looked at me and smiled, and you have walked past me and barely
noticed me as anything other than an object. Truly, it is remarkable how little regard you, or any

human, gives to something that remains completely motionless. You have woken in the night, got up,
walked to the little toilet, peed and walked back to bed. You would not notice something perfectly
still, would you? Something in the shadows?
If I could I would have made the paper for this letter for you out of my body. I thought about mixing
in with the ink my blood or spittle, but no. There is such a thing as overstatement. Yet great loves
demand grand gestures, yes? I am unused to grand gestures. I am more practised in the tiny gestures. I
made a small boy scream once, simply by smiling at him when he had convinced himself that I was
made of marble. It is the smallest gestures that will never be forgotten.
I love you.
Soon, I hope, you will know this for yourself. And then we will never part. It will be time, in a
moment, to turn around, put down the letter. I am with you, even now, in these old apartments with the
Iranian carpets on the walls.
You have walked past me too many times.
No more.
I am here with you. I am here now.
When you put down this letter. When you turn and look across this old room, your eyes sweeping it
with relief or with joy or even with terror..
Then I will move. Move, just a fraction. And, finally, you will see me.

ORANGE
(Third Subjects Responses to Investigators Written Questionnaire).
EYES ONLY
1) Jemima Glorfindel Petula Ramsey.
2) 17 on June the 9th.
3) The last 5 years. Before that we lived in Glasgow (Scotland). Before that, Cardiff (Wales).
4) I dont know. I think hes in magazine publishing now. He doesnt talk to us any more. The
divorce was pretty bad and mum wound up paying him a lot of money. Which seems sort of wrong to
me. But maybe it was worth it just to get shot of him.
5) An inventor and entrepreneur. She invented the Stuffed Muffin, and started the Stuffed Muffin
chain. I used to like them when I was a kid, but you can get kind of sick of stuffed muffins for every
meal, especially because mum used us as guinea pigs. The Complete Turkey Dinner Christmas Stuffed
Muffin was the worst. But she sold out her interest in the Stuffed Muffin chain about five years ago, to
start work on My Mums Coloured Bubbles (not actually TM yet).
6) Two. My sister Nerys, who was just 15, and my brother Pryderi, 12.
7) Several times a day.
8) No.
9) Through the internet. Probably on eBay.
10) Shes been buying colours and dyes from all over the world ever since she decided that the
world was crying out for brightly coloured dayglo bubbles. The kind you can blow, with bubble
mixture.
11) Its not really a laboratory. I mean, she calls it that, but really its just the garage. Only she took
some of the Stuffed Muffins (TM) money and converted it, so it has sinks and bathtubs and bunsen
burners and things, and tiles on the walls and the floor to make it easier to clean.
12) I dont know. Nerys used to be pretty normal. When she turned 13 she started reading these
magazines and putting pictures of these strange bimbo women up on her wall like Britney Spears and
so on. Sorry if anyone reading this is a Britney fan;) but I just dont get it. The whole orange thing
didnt start until last year.
13) Artificial tanning creams. You couldnt go near her for hours after she put it on. And shed
never give it time to dry after she smeared it on her skin, so it would come off on her sheets and on
the fridge door and in the shower leaving smears of orange everywhere. Her friends would wear it

too, but they never put it on like she did. I mean, shed slather on the cream, with no attempt to look
even human-coloured, and she thought she looked great. She did the tanning salon thing once, but I
dont think she liked it, because she never went back.
14) Tangerine Girl. The Oompaloompa. Carrot-top. Go-Mango. Orangina.
15) Not very well. But she didnt seem to care, really. I mean, this is a girl who said that she
couldnt see the point of science or maths because she was going to be a pole dancer as soon as she
left school. I said, nobodys going to pay to see you in the altogether, and she said how do you know?
and I told her that I saw the little quicktime films shed made of herself dancing nuddy and left in the
camera and she screamed and said give me that, and I told her Id wiped them. But honestly, I dont
think she was ever going to be the next Bettie Page or whoever. Shes a sort of squarish shape, for a
start.
16) German measles, mumps and I think Pryderi had chicken pox when he was staying in
Melbourne with the Grandparents.
17) In a small pot. It looked a bit like a jam jar, I suppose.
18) I dont think so. Nothing that looked like a warning label anyway. But there was a return
address. It came from abroad, and the return address was in some kind of foreign lettering.
19) You have to understand that mum had been buying colours and dyes from all over the world for
five years. The thing with the dayglo bubbles is not that someone can blow glowing coloured bubbles,
its that they dont pop and leave splashes of dye all over everything. Mum says that would be a law
suit waiting to happen. So, no.
20) There was some kind of shouting match between Nerys and mum to begin with, because mum
had come back from the shops and not bought anything from Neryss shopping list except the
shampoo. Mum said she couldnt find the tanning cream at the supermarket but I think she just forgot.
So Nerys stormed off and slammed the door and went into her bedroom and played something that
was probably Britney Spears really loudly. I was out the back, feeding the three cats, the chinchilla,
and a guinea pig named Roland who looks like a hairy cushion, and I missed it all.
21) On the kitchen table.
22) When I found the empty jam-jar in the back garden the next morning. It was underneath Neryss
window. It didnt take Sherlock Holmes to figure it out.
23) Honestly, I couldnt be bothered. I figured it would just be more yelling, you know? And mum
would work it out soon enough.
24) Yes, it was stupid. But it wasnt uniquely stupid, if you see what I mean. Which is to say, it
was par-for-the-course-for-Nerys stupid.
25) That she was glowing.

26) A sort of pulsating orange.


27) When she started telling us that she was going to be worshipped like a god, as she was in the
dawn times.
28) Pryderi said she was floating about an inch above the ground. But I didnt actually see this. I
thought he was just playing along with her newfound weirdness.
29) She didnt answer to Nerys any more. She described herself mostly as either My Immanence,
or The Vehicle. (It is time to feed the Vehicle.)
30) Dark chocolate. Which was weird because in the old days I was the only one in the house who
even sort-of liked it. But Pryderi had to go out and buy her bars and bars of it.
31) No. Mum and me just thought it was more Nerys. Just a bit more imaginatively weirdo Nerys
than usual.
32) That night, when it started to get dark. You could see the orange pulsing under the door. Like a
glow-worm or something. Or a light show. The weirdest thing was that I could still see it with my
eyes closed.
33) The next morning. All of us.
34) It was pretty obvious by this point. She didnt really even look like Nerys any longer. She
looked sort of smudged. Like an after-image. I thought about it, and its Okay. Suppose you were
staring at something really bright, that was a blue colour. Then you closed your eyes, and youd see
this glowing yellowy-orange after-image in your eyes? That was what she looked like.
35) They didnt work either.
36) She let Pryderi leave to get her more chocolate. Mum and I werent allowed to leave the house
any more.
37) Mostly I just sat in the back garden and read a book. There wasnt very much else I really
could do. I started wearing dark glasses, so did mum, because the orange light hurt our eyes. Other
than that, nothing.
38) Only when we tried to leave or call anybody. There was food in the house, though. And Stuffed
Muffins (TM) in the freezer.
39) If youd just stopped her wearing that stupid tanning cream a year ago we wouldnt be in this
mess! But it was unfair, and I apologised afterwards.
40) When Pryderi came back with the dark chocolate bars. He said hed gone up to a traffic
warden and told him that his sister had turned into a giant orange glow and was controlling our minds.
He said the man was extremely rude to him.

41) I dont have a boyfriend. I did, but we broke up after he went to a Rolling Stones concert with
the evil bottle-blonde former friend whose name I do not mention. Also, I mean, the Rolling Stones?
These little old goat-men hopping around the stage pretending to be all rock and roll? Please. So, no.
42) Id quite like to be a vet. But then I think about having to put animals down, and I dont know. I
want to travel for a bit before I make any decisions.
43) The garden hose. We turned it on full, while she was eating her chocolate bars, and distracted,
and we sprayed it at her.
44) Just orange steam, really. Mum said that she had solvents and things in the laboratory, if we
could get in there, but by now Her Immanence was hissing mad (literally) and she sort of fixed us to
the floor. I cant explain it. I mean, I wasnt stuck, but I couldnt leave or move my legs. I was just
where she left me.
45) About half a metre above the carpet. Shed sink down a bit to go through doors, so she didnt
bump her head. And after the hose incident she didnt go back to her room, just stayed in the main
room and floated about grumpily, the colour of a luminous carrot.
46) Complete world domination.
47) I wrote it down on a piece of paper and gave it to Pryderi.
48) He had to carry it back. I dont think Her Immanence really understood money.
49) I dont know. It was mums idea more than mine. I think she hoped that the solvent might
remove the orange. And at that point, it couldnt hurt. Nothing could have made things worse.
50) It didnt even upset her, like the hose-water did. Im pretty sure she liked it. I think I saw her
dipping her chocolate bars into it, before she ate them, although I had to sort of squint up my eyes to
see anything where she was. It was all a sort of great orange glow.
51) That we were all going to die. Mum told Pryderi that if the Great Oompaloompa let him out to
buy chocolate again, he just shouldnt bother coming back. And I was getting really upset about the
animalsI hadnt fed the chinchilla or Roland the guinea pig for two days, because I couldnt go into
the back garden. I couldnt go anywhere. Except the loo, and then I had to ask.
52) I suppose because they thought the house was on fire. All the orange light. I mean, it was a
natural mistake.
53) We were glad she hadnt done that to us. Mum said it proved that Nerys was still in there
somewhere, because if she had the power to turn us into goo, like she did the fire-fighters, she would
have done. I said that maybe she just wasnt powerful enough to turn us into goo at the beginning and
now she couldnt be bothered.
54) You couldnt even see a person in there any more. It was a bright orange pulsing light, and
sometimes it talked straight into your head.

55) When the spaceship landed.


56) I dont know. I mean, it was bigger than the whole block, but it didnt crush anything. It sort of
materialised around us, so that our whole house was inside it. And the whole street was inside it too.
57) No. But what else could it have been?
58) A sort of pale blue. They didnt pulse, either. They twinkled.
59) More than six, less than twenty. Its not that easy to tell if this is the same intelligent blue light
you were just speaking to five minutes ago.
60) Three things. First of all, a promise that Nerys wouldnt be hurt or harmed. Second, that if they
were ever able to return her to the way she was, theyd let us know, and bring her back. Thirdly, a
recipe for fluorescent bubble mixture. (I can only assume they were reading mums mind, because she
didnt say anything. Its possible that Her Immanence told them, though. She definitely had access to
some of the vehicles memories.) Also, they gave Pryderi a thing like a glass skateboard.
61) A sort of a liquid sound. Then everything became transparent. I was crying, and so was Mum.
And Pryderi said Cool beans, and I started to giggle while crying, and then it was just our house
again.
62) We went out into the back garden and looked up. There was something blinking blue and
orange, very high, getting smaller and smaller, and we watched it until it was out of sight.
63) Because I didnt want to.
64) I fed the remaining animals. Roland was in a state. The cats just seemed happy that someone
was feeding them again. I dont know how the chinchilla got out.
65) Sometimes. I mean, you have to bear in mind that she was the single most irritating person on
the planet, even before the whole Her Immanence thing. But yes, I guess so. If Im honest.
66) Sitting outside at night, staring up at the sky, wondering what shes doing now.
67) He wants his glass skateboard back. He says that its his, and the government has no right to
keep it. (You are the government, arent you?) Mum seems happy to share the patent for the Coloured
Bubble recipe with the government though. The man said that it might be the basis of a whole new
branch of molecular something or other. Nobody gave me anything, so I dont have to worry.
68) Once, in the back garden, looking up at the night sky. I think it was only an orangeyish star,
actually. It could have been Mars, I know they call it the red planet. Although once in a while I think
that maybe shes back to herself again, and dancing, up there, wherever she is, and all the aliens love
her pole dancing because they just dont know any better, and they think its a whole new art-form,
and they dont even mind that shes sort of square.
69) I dont know. Sitting in the back garden talking to the cats, maybe. Or blowing silly-coloured

bubbles.
70) Until the day that I die.
I attest that this is a true statement of events.
Signed:
Date:

ORPHEE (for Kathy Acker)


Orpheus was a musician. He made songs. He knew mysteries. One day the panther girls high on
wine and lust came past and tore him flesh from flesh. His head still sang and prophesied as it floated
down to the sea.
(Do not look back. Do not look fucking back. Do not look back.)
There was a girl, and he said she was his girl. He followed her to Hell when she died. You could
do that when your girlfriend dies: there are entrances to Hell in every major city: so many doors, who
has time to look behind each one?
When Orpheus was young he got the girl back from Hell safely. Thats where the years came from.
Euridice comes home from Hell and the flowers bloom and the world puddles and quickens, and its
Spring.
But that was never good enough.
And before that Spring story, it was a life and death tale. We got a million of them. If he hadnt
looked back, if he just hadnt looked back, then all the people would come back from the dead all the
time, each of us, no more ghosts, no more darkness.
I would go to Hell to see you once more. Theres a door on the third floor of the New York Public
Library, on the way to the mens toilets, by the little Charles Addams gallery. Its never locked. You
just have to open it. I would go to Hell for you. I would tell them stories that are not false and that are
not true. I would tell them stories until they wept salt tears and gave you back to me and to the world.
It doesnt have to be a year. Id take a day. Id take an hour. Id walk in front of you to the light.
But Id look back, wouldnt I? We all would. The ones who cant look back, who can only stare
into the sunrise ahead of them, stare into the glorious future, those people dont get to visit Hell.
So Orpheus came back and carried on, because he had to, and he made magic and sang songs. He
taught that there was only truth in dreams. That was one of the mysteries: in dreams the veil was lifted
and you could see so far forward you might as well have been looking back.
Some die in Washington DC or in London or in Mexico. They do not look forward to their deaths.
They glance aside, or down, or they look back. Every hour wounds. That was what she told me.
Every hour wounds, the last one kills.
And looking back now, shes standing naked in the moonlight. Her breast is already blackening, her
body a feast of tiny wounds. Izanagi followed his wife to the shadow lands, but he looked back: he
saw her face, her dead face, and he fled.
I dreamed today of bone-white horses, stamping and nuzzling in the bright sunshine, and of orange
poppies which swayed and danced in the spring wind.
(Do not look back.)
She had the softest lips, he said. He said, she had the softest lips of all. And her head still sang and
prophesied as it floated down to the sea.

(Written as the liner notes for Projekts Orpheus CD.)

GHOSTS IN THE MACHINES


We are gathered here at the final end of what Bradbury called the October Country: a state of mind
as much as it is a time. All the harvests are in, the frost is on the ground, theres mist in the crisp night
air and its time to tell ghost stories.
When I was growing up in England, Halloween was no time for celebration. It was the night when,
we were assured, the dead walked, when all the things of night were loosed, and, sensibly, believing
this, we children stayed at home, closed our windows, barred our doors, listened to the twigs rake
and patter at the window-glass, shivered, and were content.
There were days that changed everything: birthdays and New Years and First Days of School, days
that showed us that there was an order to all things, and the creatures of the night and the imagination
understood this, just as we did. All Hallows Eve was their party, the night all their birthdays came at
once. They had licenseall the boundaries set between the living and the dead were breachedand
there were witches, too, I decided, for I had never managed to be scared of ghosts, but witches, I
knew, waited in the shadows, and they ate small boys.
I did not believe in witches, not in the daylight. Not really even at midnight. But on Halloween I
believed in everything. I even believed that there was a country across the ocean where, on that night,
people my age went from door to door in costumes, begging for sweets, threatening tricks.
Halloween was a secret, back then, something private, and I would hug myself inside on
Halloween, as a boy, most gloriously afraid.

Now I write fictions, and sometimes those stories stray into the shadows, and then I find I have to
explain myself to my loved ones and my friends.
Why do you write ghost stories? Is there any place for ghost stories in the 21st century?
As Alice said, theres plenty of room. Technology does nothing to dispel the shadows at the edge
of things. The ghost-story world still hovers at the limits of vision, making things stranger, darker,
more magical, just as it always has .
Theres a blog I dont think anyone else reads. I ran across it searching for something else, and
something about it, the tone of voice perhaps, so flat and bleak and hopeless, caught my attention. I
bookmarked it.
If the girl who kept it knew that anyone was reading it, anybody cared, perhaps she would not have
taken her own life. She even wrote about what she was going to do, the pills, the Nembutal and
Seconal and the rest, that she had stolen a few at a time over the months from her stepfathers
bathroom, the plastic bag, the loneliness, and wrote about it in a flat, pragmatic way, explaining that
while she knew that suicide attempts were cries for help, this really wasnt, she just didnt want to
live any longer.
She counted down to the big day, and I kept reading, uncertain what to do, if anything. There was
not enough identifying information on the Web page even to tell me which continent she lived on. No
e-mail address. No way to leave comments. The last message said simply, Tonight.
I wondered whom I should tell, if anyone, and then I shrugged, and, best as I could, I swallowed

the feeling that I had let the world down.


And then she started to post again. She says shes cold and shes lonely.
I think she knows Im still reading .

I remember the first time I found myself in New York for Halloween. The parade went past, and
went past and went past, all witches and ghouls and demons and wicked queens and glorious, and I
was, for a moment, 7 years old once more, and profoundly shocked. If you did this in England, I found
myself thinking in the part of my head that makes stories, things would wake, all the things we burn
our bonfires on Guy Fawkes to keep away. Perhaps they can do it here, because the things that watch
are not English. Perhaps the dead do not walk here, on Halloween.
Then, a few years later, I moved to America and bought a house that looked as if it had been drawn
by Charles Addams on a day he was feeling particularly morbid. For Halloween, I learned to carve
pumpkins, then I stocked up on candies and waited for the first trick-or-treaters to arrive. Fourteen
years later, Im still waiting. Perhaps my house looks just a little too unsettling; perhaps its simply
too far out of town.

And then there was the one who said, in her cellphones voicemail message, sounding amused as
she said it, that she was afraid she had been murdered, but to leave a message and she would get back
to us.
It wasnt until we read the news, several days later, that we learned that she had indeed been
murdered, apparently randomly and quite horribly.
But then she did get back to each of the people who had left her a message. By phone, at first,
leaving cellphone messages that sounded like someone whispering in a gale, muffled wet sounds that
never quite resolved into words.
Eventually, of course, she will return our calls in person.

And still they ask, Why tell ghost stories? Why read them or listen to them? Why take such pleasure
in tales that have no purpose but, comfortably, to scare?
I dont know. Not really. It goes way back. We have ghost stories from ancient Egypt, after all,
ghost stories in the Bible, classical ghost stories from Rome (along with werewolves, cases of
demonic possession and, of course, over and over, witches). We have been telling each other tales of
otherness, of life beyond the grave, for a long time; stories that prickle the flesh and make the
shadows deeper and, most important, remind us that we live, and that there is something special,
something unique and remarkable about the state of being alive.
Fear is a wonderful thing, in small doses. You ride the ghost train into the darkness, knowing that
eventually the doors will open and you will step out into the daylight once again. Its always
reassuring to know that youre still here, still safe. That nothing strange has happened, not really. Its
good to be a child again, for a little while, and to fearnot governments, not regulations, not

infidelities or accountants or distant wars, but ghosts and such things that dont exist, and even if they
do, can do nothing to hurt us.
And this time of year is best for a haunting, as even the most prosaic things cast the most
disquieting shadows.
The things that haunt us can be tiny things: a Web page; a voicemail message; an article in a
newspaper, perhaps, by an English writer, remembering Halloweens long gone and skeletal trees and
winding lanes and darkness. An article containing fragments of ghost stories, and which, nonsensical
although the idea has to be, nobody ever remembers reading but you, and which simply isnt there the
next time you go and look for it.

THE ANNOTATED BROTHERS GRIMM:


GRIMMER THAN YOU THOUGHT
ACOB and Wilhelm Grimm did not set out to entertain children, not at first. They were primarily
collectors and philologists, who almost two centuries ago assembled German fairy tales as part of a
lifes work that included, Maria Tatar points out: massive volumes with such titles as German
Legends, German Grammar, Ancient German Law and German Heroic Legends. (Jacob
Grimms German Grammar alone, we are told helpfully, took up 3,854 pages.) They published
their first collection of Mrchen, Childrens Stories and Household Tales, in 1812, with a second
volume in 1815 and an expanded and revised edition in 1819; folklorists who became, of necessity,
storytellers, they reworked the tales for years, smoothing them while removing material they
considered unsuitable for children.
The Grimms fairy tales are inescapably, well, grimmer than the courtly, sparkling 17th-century
Cinderella and Tales of Mother Goose of Charles Perrault. The Brothers Grimm toned down
bawdier contentin their first edition, Rapunzels question to the enchantress was why, after the
Princes visits, her belly had begun to swellbut not much of the violence and bloodshed.
Occasionally they were even heightened. The Juniper Tree is a treatment of death and rebirth, just
deserts and restoration, that feels almost sacred, but the child murder and cannibalism make it
untellable today as childrens fiction.
The Annotated Brothers Grimm gives us a sample of the 210 tales in the authoritative version of
the seventh and final edition of 1857. Tatar, dean of humanities and professor of Germanic languages
and literature at Harvard University, has newly translated 37 of the 210, as well as nine tales for
adults, and annotated them, drawing on the commentary of the Grimms themselves and of writers who
have reused the Grimms material, from Jane Yolen and Peter Straub to Terry Pratchett.
Annotating fairy tales must be different in kind from the task of annotating, say, a Sherlock Holmes
story or Lewis Carrolls Hunting of the Snark. Sherlock Holmes stories dont have a multiplicity
of variants from different cultures and times; Red Riding Hood exists in versions in which, before she
clambers into bed with the wolf, she first eats her grandmothers flesh and drinks her blood; in which
she strips for the wolf; in which, naked, she excuses herself to use the privy and escapes; in which she
is first devoured, then cut from the wolfs stomach by a huntsman; in which.
Tatars book, with its annotations, explanations, front matter and end matter, illustrations and
biographical essay and further-reading section, is difficult to overpraise. A volume for parents, for
scholars, for readers, it never overloads the stories or, worse, reduces them to curiosities. And as an
object, its a chocolate-box feast of multicolored inks and design.
The annotations are fascinating. Tatar points out things so plain that commentators sometimes miss
them (for example, that Hansel and Gretel is a tale driven by food and hunger from a time when,
for the peasantry, eating until you were full was a pipe dream). In the introduction to Snow White,
we learn that the Grimms, in an effort to preserve the sanctity of motherhood, were forever turning
biological mothers into stepmothers, while an annotation tells us that in the 1810 manuscript version
there is only one queen, and she is both biological mother and persecutor.
Only rarely does Tatar note the blindingly obvious. When the heroine of The Singing Soaring
Lark (the Grimms Beauty and the Beast) sits down and cries, were told that characters often cry

when things are going badly: The weeping is emblematic of the grief and sadness they feel, and it
gives the character an opportunity to pause before moving on to a new phase of action. Well, quite.
The assemblage of storiesGermanic tales that have become part of world cultureparades an
array of nameless youngest sons and intelligent and noble girls. As both A. S. Byatt (who wrote the
introduction) and Tatar point out, the heroes and heroines triumph not because they have good hearts
or are purer or nobler than others (indeed, most of the young men are foolish, and some are downright
lazy) but because they are the central characters, and the story will take care of them, as stories do.
The adult section contains several murderous cautionary tales, along with the nightmare of The
Jew in the Brambles, a story not much reprinted since 1945, in which the hero tortures a Jewish
peddler using a magic fiddle, making him dance in brambles; at the end the peddler is hanged. Three
of the Grimms tales contain Jewish figures; the two that feature anti-Semitism in its most virulent
form were included in the Compact Edition designed for young readers (1825), Tatar tells us. The
Jew in the Brambles casts a long shadow back through the book, leaving one wondering whether the
ashes Cinderella slept in would one day become the ashes of Auschwitz.
And yet most of the stories, no matter how murderous, exude comfort. Rereading them feels like
coming home. Tatars translation is comfortable and familiar (the occasional verse translations are
slightly less felicitous); several times I found myself reading right through an unfamiliar or forgotten
tale to find out what happened next, ignoring the annotations completely.
Illustrations are an important ingredient of fairy tales. The variety and choice here are beyond
reproach: among them, Arthur Rackham, with his polled trees that gesture and bend like old men and
his adults all gnarled and twisted like trees; the elegance of Kay Nielsen; the lush draperies and
delicate fancies of Warwick Goble.
The Annotated Brothers Grimm treats the stories as something important -- not, in the end, because
of what they tell us of the buried roots of Germanic myth, or because of the often contradictory and
intermittently fashionable psychoanalytic interpretations, or for any other reason than that they are part
of the way we see the world, because they should be told. Thats what I took from it, anyway. But
fairy tales are magic mirrors: they show you what you wish to see.

THE VIEW F ROM THE CHEAP SEATS


There were authors grumbling about not going to the Oscars. I heard about it from friends. So why
are you going? they asked.
I had written a book called Coraline, which director Henry Selick had transformed into a
stopmotion wonderland. Id helped Henry as much as I could through the process of turning something
from a book into a film. I had endorsed the film, encouraged people to see it, mugged with buttons on
an internet trailer. I had also written a 15 second sequence for the Oscars, in which Coraline told an
interviewer what winning an Oscar would do for her. Id assumed that this would get me into the
Oscars. It didnt. But Henry, as director, had tickets, and could decide where they would go, and one
of them went to me.
My father had died on March the 7th 2009. The Oscars are March 7th 2010. I expect that it would
just be another day, and it will not bother me at all, demonstrating that I do not know myself very
well, because when the day arrives I am melancholy, and do not want to go to the Oscars. I want to be
at home, walking in the woods with my dog, and if I could simply press a button and be there without
disappointing anybody, I would.
I get dressed. A designer named Kambriel, whom I met when she had made a dress that would
allow my fiance and Jason Webley to represent conjoined twins, had offered to dress me for the
Oscars, and I took her up on it. She made me a jacket and a waistcoat, and I fancy that I look pretty
good in them. Best of all, I now have an answer to the people who ask What are you wearing to the
Oscars? And it makes Kambriel amazingly happy.
Focus Films who distributed Coraline, are looking after me. The previous night they had a small
reception at the Chateau Marmont for their two Oscar Nominees, Coraline and A Serious Man. The
partygoers were a strange mash-up of Minneapolis Jews and animators. Even more oddly, I was one
of the Minneapolis Jews (or almost. I wound up comparing notes with one of the other partygoers on
the St Paul papers pulse-pounding expos that I actually live an hour away from Minneapolis).
The best thing about the Oscars, I realised when the nominees were announced, is that Coraline
wont win. In the year that Up is nominated for Best Picture, which obviously, it wont win, nothing
but Up can win best Animated Picture.
A limo picks me up at 3:00pm and we drive to the Oscars. Its a slow drive: streets are closed off.
The last civilians we see are standing on a street corner holding placards telling me that God Hates
Fags, that the recent Earthquakes are Gods Special Way of Hating Fags, and that the Jews Stole
something, but I cant see what, as another placard is in the way.
A block before we reach the Kodak Theater the car is searched, and then were there and Im
tipped out onto the Red Carpet. Someone pushes a ticket into my hand, to get the car back later that
night.
Its controlled chaos.
I am standing blankly, realising I have no idea what to do now, but the women look like butterflies,
and there are people in the bleachers who shout as each limo draws up. Someone says Neil?
Its Deette, from Focus. I just came back from walking Henry through. What a nice coincidence.
Would you like me to take you through?
I would like that very much. She asks if I would like to walk past the cameras, and I say that I

would, because my fiance is in Australia and my daughters are watching on TV, and Kambriel will
be happy to see her jacket on television.
We head down into the throng, behind someone in a beautiful dress. It looks like a watercolour of a
dream. I have no idea who anyone is, except for Steve Carrell, because he looks just like Steve
Carrell on television, except a tiny bit less orange.
We are scrunched together tightly as we go through metal detectors, and the beautiful watercolour
dress is trodden on, and the lady wearing it is very gracious about this.
I ask Deette whos inside the dress, and she tells me its Rachel McAdams. I want to say Hello
Rachels said nice things about me in interviewsbut shes working right now. Im not. No-one
wants to take my photo, or, Deette discovers, to interview me. Im invisible.
At the bend in the red carpet we pause. I look down at Rachel McAdams watercolour dress and
wonder if I can see a footprint. Cameras flash, but not at me.
And were into the Kodak Theatre. Someone else introduces me to the editor of Variety. I realise
my facial recognition skills do not work when people are in tuxedos. (Except for James Cameron,
whom I have now only ever seen in a tuxedo and would not recognise wearing anything else.) I tell
this to the editor of Variety. He points to a man with a tan and a huge grin, tells me its the Mayor of
Los Angeles. He comes to all these things, he says. Why isnt he behind his desk, working?
Er. Because this is the biggest day in Hollywoods year? I venture. And its Sunday?
Well. Yes. But he still comes out for the opening of a drinks cabinet.
I went to the Golden Globes six weeks earlier and discovered that the commercial breaks in award
shows are spent in a strange form of en masse Hollywood speed-dating as people shuttle around the
room trying to find friends or make deals, and assume that tonight will be much the same.
The Kodak theatre has a ground floor and, above that, three mezzanines. My ticket is for the first
mezzanine. I head, sheep-like, up the stairs. There is a crush to get in, as a disembodied voice tells us
urgently that the Academy Awards will start in five minutes. I stare at the woman in front of me. She
has blonde hair and a face thats strangely fish-like, a scary-sweet plastic surgery face. She has old
hands and a small, wrinkled, husband who looks much older than her. I wonder if they started out the
same age.
And were in, with no time to spare. The lights go down and Neil Patrick Harris sings a special
Oscars song. It does not seem to have a tune. Several people on Twitter who arent sure which Neil
is which congratulate me on it.
And now our hosts: Steve Martin and Alec Baldwin. They come out, they make jokes. From the
first mezzanine, the timing is off, the jokes are awkward, the delivery is wooden. But it doesnt feel
as if theyre playing to us. I wonder if it works on television, and send the question out on Twitter. A
few hundred people tell me its just as bad on TV, twenty tell me theyre enjoying it. I decide this is
what Twitter is for: keeping you company when youre all alone on the mezzanine.
Best Animated movie is the second category of the night. My 15 seconds of Coraline talking to the
camera goes by fast. There, I think. The largest audience that my words will ever have.
Up wins.
The Oscars continue. In the audience, we cannot see what they are seeing on television at home.
Somewhere below me George Clooney is grimacing at the camera, but I do not know.

Tina Fey and Robert Downey Jr present the best screenplay award, and are funny. I wonder if they
wrote their own bit.
During the commercials the lights go down and they play music to mingle by. Roxanne does not
want to put on the red light.
I head for the first mezzanine bar. Im hungry and want to kill some time. I drink whisky. I order a
chocolate brownie which turns out to be about as big as my head and the sweetest thing Ive ever put
in my mouth. I share it.
People are wandering up and down the stairs.
Whisky and sugar careening through my system, I defy the orders on my ticket not to photograph
anything, and I twitter a picture of the bar menu. My fiance is sending me messages on Twitter urging
me to photograph the inside of the womens toilet, something she did during the Golden Globes, but
even in my sugar-addled state this seems a potentially disastrous idea. Still, I think, I should head
downstairs and, in the next commercial break, say hello to Henry Selick. I walk over to the stairs. A
nice young man in a suit asks me for my ticket. I show it to him. He explains that, as a resident of the
first mezzanine, I am not permitted to walk downstairs and potentially bother the A-List.
I am outraged.
I am not actually outraged, but I am a bit bored and have friends downstairs.
I decide that I will persuade the inhabitants of the mezzanines to rise up as one and to storm the
stairs, like in Titanic. They might shoot a few of us, I decide, but they cannot stop us all. We can be
free; we can drink in the downstairs bar; we can mingle with Harvey Weinstein.
Someone tells me on Twitter that nobodys checking the elevators. I suspect that this might be a
trap, and head back to my seat.
I have missed the tribute to Horror Movies.
Rachel McAdams presents an award in her beautiful, oh-so-treadonable dress.
For the Best Actor and Actress awards, a tableau of people who have worked with the nominees
tell us how wonderful they are. I wonder if this works on television. On the stage in front of us it is
painfully clumsy.
People below us are milling and chatting and schmoozing more with every commercial break.
There is an edge of panic to the disembodied announcers voice as she orders them back to their
seats.
The man in the bar who reminded me of Sean Penn turns out to have been Sean Penn. Jeff Bridges
standing ovation reaches all the way to the top mezzanine. Sandra Bullocks standing ovation only
reaches the front rows of our level and stops there. Kathryn Bigelows standing ovation covers the
entire hall except, for some reason, the top right of the first Mezzanine, where I am sitting, where we
remain sitting and clap politely.
It all seems to be building up to a crescendo, and then Tom Hanks walks out onto the stage and tells
us, with no build-up (if you exclude months of For Your Consideration campaigning) that oh, by the
way, The Hurt Locker won best picture and goodnight. And were out.
Up two escalators to the Governors Ball. I sit and chat to Michael Sheen, who brought his 11 year
old daughter Lily, about the sushi dinner we had two days before, interrupted and ended by a police
raid. We still have no idea why. (Next morning it will be a front page story on the New York Times.

They were serving illicit whalemeat.)


I see Henry Selick. He seems relieved that Awards Season is over, and that he can get on with his
life.
I feel as if Ive sleepwalked invisibly through one of the most melancholy days of my life. There
are glamorous parties that evening, but I dont go to any of them, preferring to sit in a hotel lobby with
good friends. We talk about the Oscars.
The next morning the back page of the LA Times Oscar supplement is a huge panoramic photograph
of the people on the red carpet. Somewhat to my surprise, I see myself standing front and centre,
staring down at Rachel McAdams beautiful watercolour dress, inspecting it for footprints.

ONCE UPON A TIME


back when animals spoke and rivers sang and every quest was worth going on, back when
dragons still roared and maidens were beautiful and an honest young man with a good heart and a
great deal of luck could always wind up with a princess and half the kingdom, back then, fairy tales
were for adults.
Children listened to them and enjoyed them, but children were not the primary audience, no more
than they were the intended audience of Beowulf, or the Odyssey. J.R.R. Tolkien said, in a robust and
fusty analogy, that Fairy tales were like the furniture in the nurseryt was not that the furniture had
originally been made for children: it had once been for adults and was only consigned to the nursery
when the adults grew tired of it and it became unfashionable.
Fairy tales became unfashionable for adults before children discovered them, though. Wilhelm and
Jacob Grimm, to pick two people who had a lot to do with the matter, did not set out to collect the
stories that bear their name in order to entertain children. They were primarily collectors and
philologists, who assembled their tales as part of a lifes work that included massive volumes such as
German Legends, German Grammar, and Ancient German Law, and they were surprised when the
adults who bought their collections of fairy tales to read to their children began to complain about the
adult nature of the content.
The Grimms responded to market pressure and bowdlerised enthusiasticallyRapunzel no longer
gave away her meetings with the prince by asking the witch why her belly had swelled so badly that
her clothes would not fit (a logical question given that she would soon be giving birth to twins). By
the third edition, Rapunzel tells the witch that she is lighter to pull up than the prince was, and the
twins, when they turn up, turn up out of nowhere.
The stories that people had told each other to pass the long nights had become childrens tales. And
there, many people obviously thought, they needed to stay.
But they dont stay there. I think its because most fairy tales, honed over the years, work so very
well. They feel right. Structurally they can be simple, but the ornamentation, the act of retelling, is
often where the magic occurs. Like any form of narrative that is primarily oral in transmission, its all
in the way you tell em.
Its the joy of Panto. Cinderella needs her ugly sisters and her transformation scene, but how we get
to it changes from production to production. There are traditions of fairy tales. The Arabian Nights
gives us one such, the elegant, courtly tales of Charles Perrault gave us the French version. The
Grimm brothers gave us a third. We know fairy tales on a level thats so deep its almost cellular. We
encounter them as kids, in retellings or panto. We breathe them. We know how they go.
This makes them easy to parody. Monty Pythons Happy Valley, where princes fling themselves to
their deaths for love of a princess with wooden teeth, is still my favourite pisstake. The Shrek series
parodies the Hollywood retellings of fairy tales to diminishing returns, soon making one wistful for
the thing itself.
A few years ago, on fathers day, my daughters indulged me enough to let me show them a foreign,
subtitled, black and white film, Jean Cocteaus Beauty and the Beast. The girls were unimpressed.
And then Belles father entered the Beasts castle, and we watched special effects based on people
putting their hands through walls and films being played backwards, and I heard my daughters gasp at
the magic on the screen. It was the thing itself, retold with assurance and with brilliance.

We can parody all we like, but the thing itself has power.
Sometimes the Fairy Tale tradition intersects with the literary tradition. Irish writer and playwright
Lord Dunsany wrote The King of Elflands Daughter in 1924, in which the elders of the English
kingdom of Eld decide they wish to be ruled by a magic lord, and of a princess stolen from Elfland to
England. In 1926 Hope Mirrlees, a member of the Bloomsbury set and friend of T.S. Eliot, published
Lud-In-the-Mist, a quintessentially English novel of transcendent oddness, set in a town on the
borders of Fairyland, where illegal traffic in fairy fruit (like the fruit sold in Christina Rossettis
poem, Goblin Market), and the magic and poetry and wildness that come with the fruit from over
the border change the lives of the townsfolk forever.
Mirrlees uniquely English vision, which would find itself echoed seventy years later in Susanna
Clarkes magisterial Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell, was influenced by English folk tales and
legends (Mirrlees was the partner of classicist Jane Ellen Harrison), by Christina Rossetti and by a
Victorian homicidal lunatic, the painter Richard Dadd, and his strange unfinished masterwork, an
obsessively detailed painting called The Fairy Fellers Master Stroke a painting which was itself
the subject of a radio play by Angela Carter.
Angela Carter was the first writer I encountered to take fairy tales seriously, in the sense of trying,
not to explain them or to make them less or to pin them dead on paper, but to reinvigorate them by
retelling them as having power, in the astonishing collection The Bloody Chamber. Her lycanthropic
and menstrual Red Riding Hood variants were gathered together in Neil Jordans coming of age
fantasy film Company of Wolves . She brought the same intensity to her retelling of other fairy tales,
from Bluebeard (a Carter favourite) to Puss in Boots, and then created her own perfect fairytale in the
story of Fevvers, the winged acrobat in Nights In the Circus.
When I was growing up I wanted to read something unapologetically a fairy tale, and just as
unapologetically for adults. I remember the delight with which, as a teenager, I stumbled across
William Goldmans The Princess Bride in a North London library. It was a fairytale with a framing
story which claimed that Goldman was editing Silas Morgansterns classic (albeit fictional) and
much-loved book into the form in which it was once read to him by his father, who left out the dull
bits a conceit that justified telling adults a fairy tale, and which legitimised the book by making it a
retelling, as all fairy stories somehow have to be. I interviewed Goldman in the early 80s, and he
described it his favourite of his books and the least known, a position it kept until the 1987 film of the
book made it a perennial favourite.
A fairy tale, intended for adult readers. It was a form of fiction I loved and wanted to read more of.
I couldnt find one on the shelves, so I wrote one.
I started writing Stardust in 1994, but mentally timeslipped about seventy years to do it. The mid
1920s seemed like a time that people had enjoyed writing those sorts of things, back in the days when
a fairy tale was just something a writer might write, before there were fantasy shelves in the
bookshops, before trilogies and books in the great tradition of The Lord of the Rings. This, on the
other hand, would be in the tradition of Lud-In-The-Mist and The King of Elflands Daughter . All I
was certain of, was that nobody had written books on computers back in the 1920s, so I bought a
large book of unlined pages and the first fountain pen I had owned since my schooldays and a copy of
Katherine Briggs Dictionary of Fairies, and I filled the pen and I began.
I wanted a young man who would set out on a quest in this case a romantic quest, for the heart of
Victoria Forester, the loveliest girl in his village. The village was somewhere in England, and was

called Wall, after the wall that runs beside it, a dull-looking wall in a normal looking meadow. And
on the other side of the wall would be Faerie. Faerie as a place or as a quality, rather than as a posh
way of spelling fairy. Our hero would promise to bring back a fallen star, one that had fallen on the
far side of the wall.
And the star, I knew, would not, when he found it, be a lump of metallic rock. It would be a young
woman with a broken leg, in a poor temper, with no desire to be dragged half-way across the world
and presented to anyones girlfriend.
On the way, we would encounter wicked witches, who would seek the stars heart to give back
their youth, and seven lords (some living, some ghosts) who seek the star to confirm their inheritance.
There would be obstacles of all kinds, and assistance from odd quarters.
And the hero would win through, in the manner of heroes, not because he was especially wise or
strong or brave, but because he had a good heart, and because it was his story.
I began to write:
There was once a young man who wished to gain his Hearts Desire.
And while that is, as beginnings go, not entirely novel (for every tale about
every young man there ever was or will be could start in a similar manner) there
was much about this young man and what happened to him that was unusual,
although even he never knew the whole of it.

The voice sounded like the voice I needed a little stilted and old-fashioned, the voice of a fairy
tale. I wanted to write a story that would feel, to the reader, like something he or she had always
known. Something familiar, even if the elements that made the story what it was were as original as I
could make them.
I was fortunate in having Charles Vess, to my mind the finest fairy artist since Arthur Rackham, as
the illustrator of Stardust, and many times I found myself writing things (a lion fighting a unicorn, a
flying pirate ship) simply because I wanted to see how Charles would paint them, and I was never
disappointed.
The book came out, first in illustrated and then in unillustrated form. There seemed to be a general
consensus that it was the most inconsequential of my novels. Fantasy fans, for example, wanted it to
be an epic, which it took enormous pleasure in not being. Shortly after it was published I wound up
defending it to a journalist who had loved my previous novel, Neverwhere, particularly the social
allegories therein, and had turned Stardust upside down and shaken it looking for social allegories
and found absolutely nothing of any good purpose in there.
Whats it for? he had asked, which is not a question you expect to be asked, when you write
fiction for a living.
Its a fairy tale, I told him. Its like an ice cream. Its to make you feel happy when you finish
it.
I dont think that I convinced him, not even a little bit. There was a French edition of Stardust some
years later which contained translators notes demonstrating that the whole of Stardust was gloss on
Bunyans Pilgrims Progress, I wish I had read at the time of the interview. I could have referred him
to even if I didnt believe a word of it.
Still, the people who wanted fairy tales found it and some of them knew what it was and liked it for

being exactly that, and one of those people was film-maker Matthew Vaughn.
I tend to be extremely protective when it comes to adaptations of my work, but after talking to
Matthew and to his collaborator, screenwriter Jane Goldman, I felt safe. I enjoyed their screenplay
and I really like the film they made which takes liberties with the plot all over the place,
compressing, expanding, changing, simplifying and complicating, all in the space of two hours. (I
know I didnt write a pirate captain performing a can-can in drag, for a start )
But I think the reason I liked what Matthew and Jane did so much is that they had treated what I had
made as a fairy talenot as a novel, to adapt or to ignore, but as a tale that they loved, to retell with
enjoyment. A star still falls, a boy still promises to bring it to his true love, there are still wicked
witches and ghosts and lords (although the lords have now become Princes). Matthew and Jane even
gave the story an unabashedly happy ending, which is something people tend to do when they retell
fairytales.
In the Neil Phillip-edited Penguin Book of English Folk Tales we learn that mid 20th Century
folklorists had collected an oral story and never noticed it was actually a retelling and simplification
of a strange and disturbing childrens story written by Victorian writer Lucy Clifford.
I think I would be happy if Stardust met with a similar fate, if it continued to be retold long after its
author was forgotten, if people forgot that it had once been a book and began their tales of the boy
who set out to find the fallen star with Once Upon A Time , and finished with Happily Ever
After.

DRESDEN DOLLS
I want to describe Amanda Palmer, half of art-punk cabaret-rock band the Dresden Dolls, in a way
that makes her seem like something exotic, but truly, its hard for me to think of Amanda Palmer as
exotic: I know her too well. Weve been friends for three years, a couple for nearly two, and engaged
to be married for the best part of a year now. In that time Ive seen her play gigs of all sizes and all
kinds, alone or with bands, playing piano or keyboards and, sometimes, a joke that got so far out of
hand it became a Radiohead covers album, the ukulele. Ive seen her play grand churches and
basement divebars (once on the same night going from chapel to divebar), watched her play a
seriously genderbent Emcee in Cabaret and half of the pair of conjoined twin sisters known as
Evelyn Evelyn.
But Id never seen the Dresden Dolls. They went on the sort of hiatus that most bands dont come
back from about a month before I met Amanda for the first time.
Id been a lazy sort of Dresden Dolls fan before that. I had their first two major label CDs (but
didnt even notice when they released No, Virginia, their third). They had a few songs on my STUFF
I REALLY LIKE iPod playlist. Id felt vaguely warm towards them after hearing Amanda was nice to
my god-daughters Sky and Winter after a gig, and when I noticed that the Dolls put up the hatemail
they had received (complete with occasional hatedrawings) on their website. I tried to see them once,
in 2005, when they played Sundance, but I had a press conference when they were on, and I watched
Nellie McKay instead.
When I started going out with Amanda I asked about the Dresden Dolls. She told me it was a pity
that Id missed them. They were so good, she said. Brian Viglione and her, well, it was special.
I was sure it was. But then shed talk about Brian, the other half of the Dresden Dolls (Amanda
played keyboards, Brian played mostly drums and sometimes guitar), and talk about their time on the
road in the way someone talks about a bad marriage shes glad shes out of: they had been together all
day and every day, and for 120 minutes of that time they had made the music that made her happy, and
the rest of the time they drove each other crazy. Theyd sometimes been lovers, or at least, theyd had
a fair amount of sex over that seven years, and theyd sometimes been friends, but mostly theyd been
the Dresden Dolls, a band on the road, united in a vision of art as liberation. And then in early 2008,
they werent.
Curious, Id watched a YouTube video from the end of their final tour. Brian talks about why it
was time for them to stop: Why constantly fight? he asks. Its not a marriage. Its a band. Cut to
Amanda: Its like being brother and sister and married and business partners and then put in a box
where you have to see each other 24 hours a day, she says. They both look tired and they look done.
But time heals. Or at least it forms scabs.
Which explains why I am standing on the balcony at Irving Plaza at Halloween, at the first gig of
the Dresden Dolls reunion tour, watching two young ladies, wearing mostly glitter, hula-hooping in
the dark with glowing hula-hoops, watched by an audience of clowns and zombies and mad hatters
and such, and I dont actually know where the Halloween costumes end and the dressing up to see
the Dresden Dolls begins.
Amanda appears on the balcony to watch the support band, the Legendary Pink Dots. They were
her favourite band as a teenager, gave the Dolls their first break. Shes happy that they are playing to
1200 people who would never have seen them otherwise. She holds my hand, introduces me to the

man who introduced her and Brian at a Halloween party exactly a decade before, and slips back into
the shadows.
The next time I see her, shes on the stage wearing a red kimono over a Halloween sweater she
bought in June in the Wisconsin Dells. The sweater has a scarecrow on the back. Shes wearing a red
military cap, and when two songs in, she takes off the sweater and the kimono to play in skin and a
black bra, she has the word LOVE written in eyeliner across her chest. Brian is dressed in a black
vest, black trousers.
The first strange thing about watching the Dolls is the feeling of immediate recognition. The Oh, I
get it. This is what the songs are meant to sound like. As if the drumming makes sense of something,
or translates it back into the language it was originally written in.
The second strange thing about the Dolls is this: its very obviously a band that consists of two
percussion players. They are two people who hit things. She hits the keys, he hits the drums.
And the third, and strangest thing about the Dolls is that they are, when they play, quite obviously,
telepathic, like a couple who can finish each others sentences. They know each other and the songs
so well that its all there, in muscle memory and in their heads and in the subliminal cues that the rest
of the world is never going to see. Id never really got that until now. Id puzzled over why, if the
songs needed a drummer, Amanda didnt simply go and get a drummer. But drumming is only part of
what Brians doing. Hes commenting, performing, pantomiming, playing, ying to Amandas yang. Its
a remarkable, virtuoso, glorious thing to see them play together.
They play Sex Changes. They play Missed Me, and the audience are pumping their fists,
zombies and superheroines and Pennywise the clown, and I think, Ive heard her play this song so
many times. Ive seen her cross a hall with a marching band behind her playing this song. Shes done
it with a full orchestra. And this is better than any of them.
Two nights later, on the phone, after the Boston gig, she tells me how irritated she is with people
who tell her that they like the Dresden Dolls better than her solo performances, and I feel guilty.
Im starting to understand why she went on her first tour with a dance troupe, even though it
guaranteed the tour would make no money, why she would go on tour as conjoined twins with Jason
Webley and a single dress that fitted both of them. I can see how much of what shes been doing on
stage was looking for things that replaced, not Brian, but the energy of Brian, putting something else
on the stage thats more than just a girl and a keyboard.
She introduces Brian, tells off security for trying to take a fans camera We have an open photo
policy.
A change of energy: they perform Brecht/Weills Pirate Jenny, and Brian acts it out as he
conjures the ocean with the drumming. As the Black Freighter ships off to sea, and Jenny whispers
that On it is me, the hall is perfectly quiet.
A girl shouts I love you Amanda.
A man shouts I love you Brian.
The Long sisters, friends of Amandas, both made up dead, Casey with a bullet-hole in her
forehead, Dannis face a mess of stage blood, come and stand beside me.
We love every single fucking one of you in this whole fucking room, says Amanda, using her
favourite intensifier.

The Dresden Dolls play Maurice Sendaks Pierre. The moral is Care, and I dont think either
Brian or Amanda can stop caring for a moment: about the gig, about the others playing, about a
decade of good times and bad times and petty offenses and anger and disappointment and seven years
of really, really good gigs.
Amanda goes into the chords of Coin-Operated Boy, a song that too often, solo, feels like a
novelty song, and, played by Amanda and Brian together it brings the house down: less of a song and
more of an act of symbiosis, as they try to wrong-foot each other. Its funny and its moving and its
like nothing else Ive ever seen,
By now Amanda is a mop of hair and skin in a bra, Brian is a topless sheen of sweat and a grin.
They launch into Autotune the Newss musical version of the Double Rainbow speech, as hundreds
of balloons fall, and its as foolish as its smart and either way its perfectly delightful.
The Jeep Song. I dont think Ive ever heard Amanda play this live. They grab half a dozen fans
and pull them up onstage for backing vocals.
Then its Sing. If there ever was a Dresden Dolls anthem, its this: a plea to make art, whatever
the hell else you do. Sing for the teacher who told you that you couldnt sing, sings Amanda. The
audience sings along, and it feels important, less of a singalong and more like communion or a credo,
and were all singing and its Halloween and Im up on the balcony slightly drunk, thinking that this
is some sort of wonderful, and Amandas shouting You motherfuckers, youll sing some day, and
its all so good, and standing with two dead girls, and were cheering and happy and its one of those
perfect moments that dont come along in a lifetime that often, the kind of moment you could end a
movie on.
The first encore: Brians on guitar, Amandas now wearing a golden bra, crawling out onto the
speaker-stacks to sing Mein Herr from Cabaret. Then a crazed, wonderful improvisation that slowly
crashes into Amandas song about parents, Half Jack. They fuck you up, your mum and dad, said
Philip Larkin long before either of the Dresden Dolls were born, in a line that sounded like it could
have swaggered out of an Amanda Palmer song, and Half Jack is just all about that. Jack Palmer,
Amandas father is up on the balcony near me, beaming proudly.
A drunk touches my shoulder and congratulates me during the flailing madness of Girl
Anachronism. Or I think hes congratulating me. How do you sleep at night? he asks. It must be
like catching lightning in a jar.
And I say yes, I suppose it must be, and that I sleep just fine.
The band crashes into War Pigs as a final number, and its huge and bombastic and heartfelt, and
Amanda and Brian are playing like one person with two heads and four hands, and its all about the
beat and the roar, and I watch the crowd in their lunatic, wonderful Halloween costumes drink it in
until the final explosive rumble of drums has faded away.
I love the gig. I love everything about it. I feel like Ive been made a gift of seven years of
Amandas life, the Dresden Dolls years before I knew her. And Im in awe of what the Dresden Dolls
are, and what they do.
And when its all over, and its two a.m. and we are back in the hotel and the adrenaline is fading,
Amanda, who has been subdued and awkward since the gig finished, starts crying, silently,
uncontrollably, and I hold her, not sure what to say.
You saw how good it was tonight? she asks as she cries, and I tell her that, yes. I did, and for the

first time it occurs to me how bad it must have got to make her leave something that meant that much
to her, that made so many people happy.
Her cheeks are black with wet eye-make-up and its smearing on the sheets and the pillow as she
sobs and I hold her tight, and try with all my might to understand.

INTRODUCTION:
BRIAN ALDISS HOTHOUSE
Annihilating all thats made
To a green thought in a green shade
The Garden, Andrew Marvell.

Brian Aldiss is now the preeminent English science fiction writer of his generation. He has now
been writing for over fifty years with a restless energy and intellect that have taken him from the heart
of genre science fiction to mainstream fiction and back again, with explorations of biography,
fabulism, and absurdism on the way. As an editor and as an anthologist he has done much to influence
the kind of science fiction that people were reading through the sixties and seventies, and was
responsible for shaping tastes of readers of Science Fiction in the UK. He has been a critic, and his
examinations of the SF field, Billion Year Spree and its reinvention, Trillion Year Spree , were
remarkable descriptions of the genre that Aldiss argued began with Mary Shelleys Frnkenstein and
defined as Hubris clobbered by Nemesis. His career has been enormous: it has recapitulated
British SF, always with a ferocious intelligence, always with poetry and oddness, always with
passion; while his work outside the boundaries of science fiction, as a writer of mainstream fiction
and gained respect and attention from the wider world.
Brian Aldiss is, as I write this, a living author, still working and still writing, and a living author
who has restlessly crossed from genre to genre and broken genre lines whenever it suited him; as such
he is difficult to put into context, problematic to pigeonhole.
As a young man in the Army Brian Aldiss found himself serving in Burma and in Sumatra,
encountering a jungle world unimaginable in grey England, and it is not too presumptuous to suggest
that the inspiration for the world of Hothouse began with that exposure to the alien, in a novel that
celebrates the joy of strange and savage vegetable growth.
He was demobbed in 1948, returned to England and worked in a bookshop while writing science
fiction short stories. His first book was The Brightfount Diaries, a series of sketches about
bookselling, anhd shortly thereafter sold his first set of science fiction stories in book form Space,
Time and Nathaniel, began editing, became a critic and describer of SF as a medium.
Aldiss was part of the second generation of English science fiction writers; he had grown up
reading American science fiction magazines, and he understood and spoke the language of Golden
Age science fiction, combining it with a very English literary point of view. He owed as much to
early Robert Heinlein as to H.G. Wells. Still, he was a writer, and not, say, an engineer. The story
was always more important to Aldiss than the science. (American writer and critic James Blish
famously criticised Hothouse for its scientific implausibility; but Hothouse delights in its
implausibilities, and its impossibilities the oneiric image of the web-connected moon is a prime
example are its strengths, not weaknesses.)
Hothouse, Aldisss next major work, like many novels of its time, was written and published
serially, in magazine form, in America. It was written as a linked sequence of five novelettes, which
were collectively given the Hugo Award (the science fiction fields Oscar) in 1962, for Best Short
Fiction. (Robert A Heinleins Stranger in a Strange Land took the Hugo for Best Novel.)

There had been prominent English science fiction writers before Aldiss, writing for the American
market Arthur C. Clarke, for example, or Eric Frank Russell but Aldiss came on the scene after
the so-called Golden Age was over, began to write at a point where science fiction was beginning to
introspect. Authors like Aldiss and his contemporaries, such as J.G. Ballard and John Brunner, were
part of the sea-change that would produce, in the second half of the Sixties, coagulating around the
Michael Moorcock-edited New Worlds , what would become known as the New Wave: science
fiction that relied on the softer sciences, on style, on experimentation. And although Hothouse
predates the New Wave, it can also be seen as one of the seminal works that created it, or that
showed that the change had come.
Aldiss continued to experiment in form and content, experimenting with prose comedic,
psychedelic and literary. His Horatio Stubbs Saga, published between 1971 and 1978, a sequence
of three books which dealt with the youth, education and war experiences in Burma of a young man
whose experiences parallel Aldisss, were bestsellers, a first for Aldiss. In the early 1980s he
returned to classical science fiction with the magisterial Helliconia sequence, which imagined a
planet with immensely long seasons orbiting two suns, and examined the life forms and biological
cycles of the planet, and the effect on the planets human observers, in an astonishing exercise in
world-building.
Restlessly creative, relentlessly fecund, Brian Aldiss has created continually, and just as his
hothouse Earth brings forth life of all shapes and kinds, unpredictable, delightful and dangerous, so
has Aldiss. His characters and his worlds, whether in his mainstream fiction, his science fiction, or in
the books that are harder to classify, such as the experimental, surreal Report on Probability A, are
always engaged in, to use graphic novelist Eddie Campbells phrase, the dance of Lifey Death.
Hothouse was Aldisss second substantial SF novel. It is an uncompromising book, and it exists
simultaneously in several science fictional traditions (for it is science fiction, even if the image at the
heart of the story, of a Moon and Earth that do not spin, bound together by huge spidery webs, is an
image from fantasy).
It is a novel of a far-future Earth, set at the end of this planets life, when all our current concerns
are forgotten, our cities are long gone and abandoned. (The moments in the ruins of what I take to be
Calcutta, as the Beauty chants long-forgotten political slogans from a time in our distant future, are a
strange reminder of a world millions of years abandoned and irrelevant.)
It is an Odyssey in which our male protagonist, Gren, takes a journey across a world, through
unimagined dangers and impossible perils (while Lily-yo, our female protagonist, gets to journey up).
It is a tale of impossible wonders, part of a genre that, like the Odyssey, predates science fiction,
its roots in the travellers tales of Sir John Mandeville and before, tall tales of distant places filled
with unlikely creatures, of headless men with their faces in their chests and men like dogs and of a
strange form of lamb that was actually a vegetable.
But above and behind all else, Hothouse is a novel of conceptual breakthroughas explained by
John Clute and Peter Nicholls in their Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the moment of conceptual
breakthrough occurs as the protagonist puts his head through the edge of the world to see the cogs and
gears and engines turning behind the skies, and the protagonist and the reader begin to understand the
previously hidden nature of reality. In Aldisss first science fiction novel, Non-Stop, the jungle is, as
we will learn, inside a starship which has been travelling through space for many human generations
so long that the people on the ship have forgotten that they are on a ship. Hothouse is a novel of a

different kind of conceptual breakthrough, for the various protagonists are more concerned with
survival than they are with discovery, leaving the moments of Aha! for the reader to discover: the
life-cycle of the fly-men, the role of fungus in human evolution, the nature of the worldall these
things we learn, and they change the nature of the way we see things.
Hothouse is plotted by place and by event and, over and over, by wonder. It is not a novel of
character: the characters exist at arms length from us, and Aldiss intentionally and repeatedly
alienates us from them even Gren, the nearest thing we have to a sympathetic protagonist, gains
knowledge from the morel and becomes estranged from us, forcing us from his point of view into his
(for want of a better word) mate Yattmurs. We sympathise with the final humans in their jungle, but
they are not us.
There are those who accuse science fiction of favouring idea over characters; Aldiss has proved
himself over and over a writer who understands and creates fine and sympathetic characters, both in
his genre and in his mainstream work, and yet I think it would be a fair accusation to make about
Hothouse. Someone who made it would, of course, miss the point, much as someone accusing a
Beatles song of being three minutes long and repeating itself in the choruses might have missed the
point: Hothouse is a cavalcade of wonders and a meditation on the cycle of life, in which individual
lives are unimportant, in which a nice distinction between animal and vegetable is unimportant, in
which the solar system itself is unimportant, and in the end, all that truly matters is life, arriving here
from space as fine particles, and now passing back on again, into the void.
Its the only science fiction novel I can think of that celebrates the process of composting. Things
grow and die and rot and new things grow. Death is frequent and capricious and usually unmourned.
Death and rebirth are constant. Life -- and Wonder -- remain.
The Sense of Wonder is an important part of what makes science fiction work, and it is this Sense
of Wonder that Hothouse delivers so effectively, and at a sustained level that Aldiss would not
surpass until his trilogy of novels Helliconia Spring, Helliconia Summer and Helliconia Winter,
almost thirty years later.
The world of Hothouse is our own planet, inconceivable gulfs of time from now. The Earth no
longer spins. The moon is frozen in orbit, bound to the Earth by web-like strands. The day-side of the
Earth is covered by the many trunks of a single banyan tree, in which many vegetable creatures live,
and some insects, and Humankind. People have shrunk to monkey-size. They are few in number, as
are the other remaining species from the animal kingdom (we will meet a few species, and we will
converse with one mammal, Sodal Ye). But animals are irrelevant: the long afternoon of the Earth, as
nightfall approaches, is the time of vegetable life, which occupies the niches that animals and birds
occupy today, while also filling new niches of which the traversers, the mile-long space-spanning
vegetable spider-creatures are, perhaps, the most remarkable.
The teeming life forms which, with their Lewis Carroll-like portmanteau names, feel as if they
were named by clever children fill the sunside of the world. Gren, the nearest thing to a protagonist
that Aldiss gives us, one letter away from the omnnipresent green, begins as a child, and more animal
than human. A smart animal, true, but still an animal and he ages fast, as an animal might age.
His odyssey is a process of becoming human. He learns that there are things he does not know.
Most of his suppositions are wrong, and in his world a mistake will probably kill you. Randomly,

intelligently, fortunately, he survives and he learns, encountering a phantasmagoria of strange


creatures on the way, including the lotus-eating tummy-bellies, a comic relief turn that gets
increasingly dark as the book progresses.
At the heart of the book is Grens encounter with the morel, the intelligent fungus who is at the
same time both the snake in the Garden of Eden and the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and
evil, a creature of pure intellect in the same way that Gren and the humans are creatures of instinct.
Sodel Ye, the descendant of dolphins that Gren will encounter towards the end, and the morel are
both intelligent, both know more about the world than the humans, and both are reliant on other
creatures to move around and encounter the world, as parasites or symbiotes.
Looking back, one can see why Hothouse was unique, and why, almost fifty years ago, it won the
Hugo and cemented Aldisss reputation. Compare Hothouse with its most traditionally English
equivalent, John Wyndhams disaster novel The Day of the Triffids (1951), a cosy catastophe (to
use Aldiss-the-critics phrase) in which blinded humans are victimised by huge, ambulatory, deadly
plants, band together and learn how to keep themselves safe before, we assume, re-establishing
humanitys dominion over the Earth. In the

ENTITLEMENT ISSUES
(FROM MY BLOG)
Hi Neil,
Ive recently subscribed to George RR Martins blog (http://grrm.livejournal.com/) in the hopes of
getting some inside information regarding when the next Song of Ice and Fire book is due to be
released. I love the series but since subscribing to the blog Ive become increasingly frustrated with
Martins lack of communication on the next novels publication date. In fact, its almost as though he
is doing everything in his power to avoid working on his latest novel. Which poses a few questions:
1. With blogs and twitter and other forms of social media do you think the audience has too much
input when it comes to scrutinising the actions of an artist? If you had announced a new book two
years ago and were yet to deliver do you think avoiding the topic on your blog would lead readers to
believe you were being slack? By blogging about your work and life do you have more of a
responsibility to deliver on your commitments?
2. When writing a series of books, like Martin is with A Song of Ice and Fire what responsibility
does he have to finish the story? Is it unrealistic to think that by not writing the next chapter Martin is
letting me down, even though if and when the book gets written is completely up to him?
Would be very interested in your insight.
Cheers,
Gareth
My opinion .
1) No
2) Yes, its unrealistic of you to think George is letting you down.
Look, this may not be palatable, Gareth, and I keep trying to come up with a better way to put it, but
the simplicity of things, at least from my perspective is this:
George R.R. Martin is not your bitch.
This is a useful thing to know, perhaps a useful thing to point out when you find yourself thinking that
possibly George is, indeed, your bitch, and should be out there typing what you want to read right
now.

People are not machines. Writers and artists arent machines.


Youre complaining about George doing other things than writing the books you want to read as if
your buying the first book in the series was a contract with him: that you would pay over your ten
dollars, and George for his part would spend every waking hour until the series was done, writing the
rest of the books for you.
No such contract existed. You were paying your ten dollars for the book you were reading, and I
assume that you enjoyed it because you want to know what happens next.
It seems to me that the biggest problem with series books is that either readers complain that the
books used to be good but that somewhere in the effort to get out a book every year the quality has
fallen off, or they complain that the books, although maintaining quality, arent coming out on time.
Both of these things make me glad that I am not currently writing a series, and make me even gladder
that the decade that I did write series things, in Sandman, I was young, driven, a borderline
workaholic, and very fortunate. (and even then, towards the end, I was taking five weeks to write a
monthly comic, with all the knock-on problems in deadlines that you would expect from that).
For me, I would rather read a good book, from a contented author. I dont really care what it takes to
produce that.
Some writers need a while to charge their batteries, and then write their books very rapidly. Some
writers write a page or so every day, rain or shine. Some writers run out of steam, and need to do
whatever it is they happen to do until theyre ready to write again. Sometimes writers havent quite
got the next book in a series ready in their heads, but they have something else all ready instead, so
they write the thing thats ready to go, prompting cries of outrage from people who want to know why
the author could possibly write Book X while the fans were waiting for Book Y.
I remember hearing an upset comics editor telling a roomful of other editors about a comics artist
who had taken a few weeks off to paint his house. The editor pointed out, repeatedly, that for the
money the artist would have been paid for those weeks work he could easily have afforded to hire
someone to paint his house, and made money too. And I thought, but did not say, But what if he
wanted to paint his house?
I blew a deadline recently. Terminally blew it. First time in 25 years Ive sighed and said, I cant do
this, and you wont get your story. It was already late, I was under a bunch of deadline pressure, my
father died, and suddenly the story, too, was dead on the page. I liked the voice it was in, but it wasnt
working, and eventually, rather than drive the editors and publishers mad waiting for a story that
wasnt going to come, I gave up on it and apologised, worried that I could no longer write fiction.
I turned my attention to the next deadline waitinga script. It flowed easily and delightfully, was the

most fun Ive had writing anything in ages, all the characters did exactly what I had hoped they would
do, and the story was better than I had dared to hope.
Sometimes it happens like that. You dont choose what will work. You simply do the best you can
each time. And you try to do what you can to increase the likelihood that good art will be created.
And sometimes, and its as true of authors as it is of readers, you have a life. People in your world
get sick or die. You fall in love, or out of love. You move house. Your aunt comes to stay. You
agreed to give a talk half-way around the world five years ago, and suddenly you realise that that talk
is due now. Your last book comes out and the critics vociferously hated it and now you simply dont
feel like writing another. Your cat learns to levitate and the matter must be properly documented and
investigated. There are deer in the apple orchard. A thunderstorm fries your hard disk and fries the
backup drive as well
And life is a good thing for a writer. Its where we get our raw material, for a start. We quite like to
stop and watch it.
The economics of scale for a writer mean that very few of us can afford to write 5,000 page books
and then break them up and publish them annually once they are done. So writers with huge stories, or
ones that, as Sandman did, grow in the telling, are going to write them and have them published as
they go along.
And if you are waiting for a new book in a long ongoing series, whether from George or from Pat
Rothfuss or from someone else
Wait. Read the original book again. Read something else. Get on with your life. Hope that the author
is writing the book you want to read, and not dying, or something equally as dramatic. And if he
paints the house, thats fine.
And Gareth, in the future, when you see other people complaining that George R.R. Martin has been
spotted doing something other than writing the book they are waiting for, explain to them, more
politely than I did the first time, the simple and unanswerable truth: George R. R. Martin is not
working for you.
Hope that helps.

WHY DEFEND FREEDOM OF ICKY SPEECH?


(FROM MY BLOG)
This is a bit long. Apologies. Id meant to talk about other things, but I started writing a reply this
morning to the letter that follows and I got a bit carried away.
I have questions about the Handley case. What makes lolicon something worth defending? Yaoi, as
I understand it, isnt necessarily child porn, but the lolicon stuff is all about sexualizing prepubescent
girls, yes? And havent there been lots of credible psych studies saying that if you find a support
community for a fetish, belief or behavior, youre more likely to indulge in it? Thats why social
movements are so important for oppressed or non-mainstream groups (meaning everything from the
fetish community to free-market libertarianism) -and why NAMBLA is so very, very scary (they are,
essentially, a support group for baby-rapists.)
The question, for me, is even if we only save ONE child from rape or attempted rape, or even just
lots of uncomfortable hugs from Creepy Uncle Dave, is that not worth leaving a couple naked bodies
out of a comic? It is, after all, more than possible to imply and discuss these issues (ex. if someone
loses their virginity at 14, and chooses to write a comic about it) without having a big ol pic of 14
yr. old poon being penetrated as the graphic. I also think theres a world of difference between the
Sandman story-which depicts child rape as the horrific thing it is (and, I believe, also ends with a
horrific death for the pervert, doesnt it?) and depicting child rape as a sexy and titillating thing. I
think there is also a difference between acknowledging childrens sexuality, and pornography about
children that is created for adults. Where on this spectrum does something like lolicon fall? And,
again, why do you, personally, think that it should be defended?
Thanks for reading my ramble, and for being accessible to us, and engaged in things like CBLDF.
Mostly, they are a fantastic org., but Im really on the fence with this case
Jess
Let me see if I can push you off the fence, a little, Jess. Im afraid its going to be a long, and
probably a bit rambly answer -- a credo, and how I arrived at that.
If you acceptand I dothat freedom of speech is important, then you are going to have to defend
the indefensible. That means you are going to be defending the right of people to read, or to write, or
to say, what you dont say or like or want said.
The Law is a huge blunt weapon that does not and will not make distinctions between what you
find acceptable and what you dont. This is how the Law is made.
People making art find out where the limits of free expression are by going beyond them and getting
into trouble.
Lost Girls by Melinda Gebbie and Alan Moore is several hundred pages long. Describing Lost
Girls, I said: The boundary between pornography and erotica is an ambiguous one, and it changes
depending on where youre standing. For some, perhaps, its a matter of whatever turns you on (my
erotica, your pornography), for some the distinction occurs in class (i.e. erotica is pornography for
rich people). Perhaps its also something to do with the means of distribution internet pornography

is unquestionably porn, while an Edwardian publication, on creamy paper, bought by connoisseurs,


part works bound into expensive volumes, must be erotica.
and I went on to say, of Lost Girls:
Its the kind of smut that would have no difficulty in demonstrating to an overzealous prosecutor
that it has unquestionable artistic validity beyond its simple first amendment right to exist.
(Which is the kind of thing you put in a review suspecting that its real purpose may be, one day in
the future, to persuade a prosecutor that the case is already lost, and not to bother.)
In with Lost Girls many permutations of sexuality, we find some content featuring fictional
characters under the current age of consent. Its a story about sexual awakenings, after all, and few of
us wake exactly on our eighteenth birthdays (or whatever your local age of consent or representation
happens to be). At one point we find ourselves reading a book within a book, a Beardsleyesque
fantasia in which fictional characters discuss the fact that they are lines on paper, metafictional
fantasies, while having underage, incestuous, sex. Its art, and its brilliant, its deeply problematic
and it makes you think about what porn is and what art is, and where the boundaries are.
The Law is a blunt instrument. Its not a scalpel. Its a club. If there is something you consider
indefensible, and there is something you consider defensible, and the same laws can take them both
out, you are going to find yourself defending the indefensible.
I was born the day of the conclusion of the Lady Chatterley trial in England, the day it was decided
that Lady Chatterleys Lover, with its swearing, buggery and raw sex between the classes, was fit to
be published and read in a cheap edition that poor people and servants could read. This was the same
England in which, some years earlier, the director of public prosecutions had threatened to prosecute
Professor F R Leavis if he so much as referred to James Joyces Ulysses in a lecture (the DPP was
Archibald Bodken, who also banned The Well of Loneliness) , in which, when I was sixteen and
listening to the Sex Pistols, the publisher of Gay News was sentenced to prison for the crime of
Criminal Blasphemy, for publishing an erotic poem featuring a fantasy about Jesus.
When I was writing Sandman, about eighteen years ago, I had thought that the Marquis de Sade
would make a fine character for my French Revolution story (I loved the fact that at the time he was a
tubby, asthmatic imprisoned for his refusal to sentence people to death) and realised I ought to read
his books, rather than commentaries on them, if I was going to put him in my story. I discovered that
the works of DeSade were, at that time, considered obscene and not available in the UK, and that UK
Customs had declared them un-importable. I bought them in a Borders the next time I was in the US,
and brought them through customs looking guilty. (You can now get De Sade in the UK. The arrival of
internet porn in the UK meant that the police stopped chasing things like that.)
The first time I got involved in fund-raising for comics freedom of speech was in late 1983 or early
1984Knockabout Comics were having one of their frequent battles with UK Customs over what
could and could not be imported into the UK. Some comics contained rude words, sex, or the use of
marijuana in them, and UK Customs would seize any comics they objected to, and often other comics
in the same shipment, forcing Knockabout to fight long, expensive, court cases to get their comics
back. (I remember the outrage when, in 1996, Knockabout imported some Robert Crumb books to
accompany a major BBC TV documentary on Crumb, and UK Customs confiscated the books, forcing
yet another court case. Im pretty sure that it was over some autobiographical Crumb work which
contained drawings of sexual fantasies including characters who were under 18. As Tony Bennet
from Knockabout saidin a recent interview: The other case was with HM Customs in 1996 over

Robert Crumbs comics and explicit sexual imagery. We won this overwhelmingly as well and
Customs were kind enough to write to me after the case setting out a list of what sex acts might be
shown in comics. I havent actually framed it but it is a precious document.)
The first time I ever came close actually to sending a publisher to prison for something I had
written was about 1986 or 1987, for Knockabouts Outrageous Tales From The Old Testament : Id
retold a story from the Book of Judges that contained a rape and murder, and this was held to have
contravened a Swedish law depicting images of violence against women. The case was only won
when the defense pointed out that the words were from the King James version of the bible, and that
the images were a fair representation thereof
While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house.
Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, Bring out the man who
came to your house so we can have sex with him.
The owner of the house went outside and said to them, No, my friends, dont be so vile. Since this
man is my guest, dont do this disgraceful thing. Look, here is my virgin daughter, and his concubine. I
will bring them out to you now, and you can use them and do to them whatever you wish. But to this
man, dont do such a disgraceful thing.
But the men would not listen to him. So the man took his concubine and sent her outside to them, and
they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go. At daybreak the
woman went back to the house where her master was staying, fell down at the door and lay there until
daylight.
When her master got up in the morning and opened the door of the house and stepped out to continue
on his way, there lay his concubine, fallen in the doorway of the house, with her hands on the
threshold. He said to her, Get up; lets go. But there was no answer. Then the man put her on his
donkey and set out for home.
When he reached home, he took a knife and cut up his concubine, limb by limb, into twelve parts
and sent them into all the areas of Israel.
And in each case Ive mentioned so far, you could rewrite Jesss letter above, explaining that only
perverts would want to read Lady Chatterley, or see images of women being abused, or read Lost
Girls or the works of Robert Crumb, and mentioning that if only one person was saved from a hug
from a creepy uncle, or indeed, being raped in the streets, that banning them or prosecuting those who
write, draw, publish, sell ornowown them, is worth it. Because that was the point of view of the
people who were banning these works or stopping people reading them. They thought they were doing
a good thing. They thought they were defending other people from something they needed to be
protected from.
I loved coming to the US in 1992, mostly because I loved the idea that freedom of speech was
paramount. I still do. With all its faults, the US has Freedom of Speech. The First Amendment states

that you cant be arrested for saying things the government doesnt like. You can say what you like,
write what you like, and know that the remedy to someone saying or writing or showing something
that offends you is not to read it, or to speak out against it. I loved that I could read and make my own
mind up about something.
(Its worth noting that the UK, for example, has no such law, and that even the European Court of
Human Rights has ruled that interference with free speech was necessary in a democratic society in
order to guarantee the rights of others to protection from gratuitous insults to their religious
feelings.) So when Mike Diana was prosecutedand, in 1996, found guiltyof obscenity for the
comics in his Zine Boiled Angel, and sentenced to a host of things, including (if memory serves) a
three year suspended prison sentence, a three thousand dollar fine, not being allowed to be in the
same room as anyone under eighteen, over a thousand hours of community service, and was forbidden
to draw anything else that anyone might consider obscene, with the local police ordered to make 24
hour unannounced spot checks to make sure Mike wasnt secretly committing Art in the small hours of
the morning that was the point I decided that I knew what was Obscene, and it was prosecuting
artists for having ideas and making lines on paper, and that I was henceforth going to do everything I
could to support the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. Whether I liked or approved of what Mike
Diana did was utterly irrelevant. (For the record, I didnt like the text parts of Boiled Angel, but did
like the comics, which were personal and had a raw power to them. And somewhere in the sprawling
basement magazine collection I have Boiled Angel 7 and 8, which I read back then to find out what
was being prosecuted, and for owning which I could, I assume, now be arrested )
The first time the CBLDF did anything to defend one of my comics, it was the Death Talks About
Life comic at the back of DEATH: THE HIGH COST OF LIVING, in which we see Death putting a
condom on a banana and talking about how not to get pregnant, diseased, or dead. The Chief of Police
in (if memory serves) Jacksonville Florida ordered a comic shop not to sell it, because she thought it
was obscene and encouraged teen sex. In this case, it only took a letter from the CBLDF legal
counsel, Burton Joseph, to the Jackson-ville Police Department, explaining the concept of the First
Amendment (and, by implication, that there was an organisation prepared to defend this stuff) and
they shut up and went away. (Thats what most of the CBLDF activity consists ofsmall, quiet things
that stop the threats to stores or creators ever getting to a court of law.) From the police chiefs point
of view, Death Talks About Life was obscene. She wanted it off the shelves. She wanted people
protected from it.
In this case you obviously have read lolicon, and I havent. I dont know whether youre writing
from personal experience here, and whether you have personally been incited to rape children or give
inappropriate hugs by reading it. (I assume you havent. I assume that Chris Handley, with his huge
manga collection, wasnt either. Ive read books that claimed that exposure to porn causes rape, but
have seen no statistical evidence that porn causes rapeand indeed have seenclaims that the
declining number of US rapes may be due to the wider availability of porn. Honestly, I think its a red
herring in First Amendment matters, and Ill leave it for other people to argue about.) Still, you seem
to want lolicon banned, and people prosecuted for owning it, and I dont. You ask, What makes it
worth defending? and the only answer I can give is this: Freedom to write, freedom to read, freedom
to own material that you believe is worth defending means youre going to have to stand up for stuff
you dont believe is worth defending, even stuff you find actively distasteful, because laws are big
blunt instruments that do not differentiate between what you like and what you dont, because
prosecutors are humans and bear grudges and fight for re-election, because one persons obscenity is

another persons art.


Because if you dont stand up for the stuff you dont like, when they come for the stuff you do like,
youve already lost.
The CBLDF will defend your First Amendment right as an adult to make lines on paper, to draw, to
write, to sell, to publish, and now, to own comics. And thats what makes the kind of work you dont
like, or dont read, or work that you do not feel has artistic worth or redeeming features worth
defending. Its because the same laws cover the stuff you like and the stuff you find icky, wherever
your icky line happens to be: the law is a big blunt instrument that makes no fine distinctions, and
because you only realise how wonderful absolute freedom of speech is the day you lose it.
(And let it be understood that I think that child pornography, and the exploitation of actual children
for porn or for sex is utterly wrong and bad, because actual children are being directly harmed. And
also that I think that prosecuting as child pornographers a 16 and 17 year old who were legally able
to have sex, because they took a sexual photograph of themselves and emailed it to themselves is
utterly, insanely wrong, and a nice example of the law as blunt instrument.)

HARVEY AWARDS SPEECH


Im in the middle of writing a novel currently, and unlike the pleasant social world of comics
where, if youre me, you talk on a daily basis to editors and artists to letterers or colourists or cover
artists, writing a novel is something thats done solo. Its just me and a lot of pieces of paper. Even
my family leaves me alone to write.
This means that when finally offered the opportunity to speak, Im liable to begin with apologising
for being so out of practice, and then to start blithering unstoppably.
Forgive me if I blither.
Harvey Kurtzman was a genius. And that was not what made his work special. Weve had a
number of geniuses in comics, and we have a number of them still. Some brilliant work is cold. There
are some things one admires, but one cannot love.
Kurtzman was someone who was doing what he wanted to do, enjoying himself. Happy to rewrite
the rules because there were no rules, as long as you were creating art.
Most of us are happy to have created just one world class, life-changing work. Harvey did it a
number of times. He is one of the people who created the world in which we exist.
He endured senate hearings, commercial exploitation, watching some of his most treasured
creations fail. Along the way he created art that will remain forever, and inspired a list of people
longer than your arm, all of whom watched Harvey strive toward excellence, break new ground, tell
new stories. Some of them went on to become cartoonists or writers or filmmakers people like R.
Crumb or Terry Gilliam. Others simply discovered that the worlds and visions that Harvey Kurtzman
gave them changed their world, in the way that real art does. It gave them new eyes. Perhaps a more
cynical view of the world, certainly a more pragmatic one. Harveys worlds were, at least in their
EC incarnations, never fair. You got what you needed, and what you deserved, and you normally got
it in the neck.
I was fortunate enough to have met Harvey Kurtzman, in 1990, at the Dallas Fantasy Fair. He told
me how much he appreciated what I was doing, which I took, not as any indication that he had read
anything I had written, but as him expressing his pride in a younger generation of comics writers and
artists. That there were bright young creators out there who cared about comics as an artform
mattered to Harvey Kurtzman. Hed invested his life in the crazy belief that comics were art, and not
anything to apologise for, and that investment reaped its dividends in the lives it influenced, in those
of us who believed it too, and acted accordingly.
When, as a young man, my dream of getting to make comics started to become a reality, I started to
meet comics people. These were the people who I had looked up to in my teens, in my twenties, as
gods upon the earth. These were the names that I conjured with. I would read everything I could about
them when I was growing up, in a time when there was precious little about them to read, and even
less of what they had done still in print.
And now I was to meet them.
And I discovered, to my surprise, that quite a lot of them were cranky old jews. Or wannabe cranky
old jewsthey seemed to be enjoying themselves too much to be properly cranky, and not all of them
were actually Jewish.

And now, approaching my mid-forties, eighteen years after writing my first comic, I find myself
heading down the conveyor belt towards cranky old Jewhood. Im at the age where they start to give
you lifetime achievement awards, and you rather wish they wouldnt, because it may be some kind of
a hint that its time for you to sit down and shut up.
It is the prerogative, however, of those who are one day to be cranky old jews to give advice to the
generations that will follow them. And while some of you are my contemporaries, and others are my
seniors, I shall advise anyway.
My first piece of advice is this:
Ignore all advice.
In my experience, most interesting art gets made by people who dont know the rules, and have no
idea that certain things simply arent done: so they do them. Transgress. Break things. Have too much
fun.
2) Read outside of comics. Learn from places that arent comics. Dont do what anyone else is
doing. Steal from places that people arent looking. Go outside. Many years ago, when it was almost
unheard of for foreigners to write American comics, people used to ask why British Writers were
different. I had no idea. I did notice that when I spoke socially to people like Alan Moore, or to Grant
Morrison, we mostly werent talking about comics. We were talking about avant garde forms of
poetry, about non-fiction writers, about weird things wed found. Grant Morrison discovered a longforgotten Victorian childrens author named Lucy Clifford, who wound up influencing both his Doom
Patrol and, much later, my Coraline. We loved comics, but they werent all we knew. Theres a
whole cool world out there. Use it.
3) Read all the comics you can. Know your comics.
The history of comics is not a long one, and its not unknowable. We can argue about whether or
not hieroglyphics were the earliest comics, or the Bayeux tapestry or what. At the end of the day, we
dont have a long history. You can learn it. You can, these days more easily that you ever could
before, study it. And the high points of the last century in comics are quite astonishing. There are
things that Winsor McCay did in Little Nemo that are still unsurpassed. Things in Herrimans Krazy
Kat that are jawdropping. There are things, as a writer and as a storyteller, that Harvey Kurtzman did,
that Will Eisner did, that Robert Crumb did that you should familiarise yourself with and learn from.
Theres more classic and important material in print now in affordable editions than there has ever
been. Let it inspire you. See how high people have taken the medium in the past, and resolve to take it
further.
Isaac Newton, even as he created the foundations of huge swatches of science, said that if he had
seen a little further than most men, it was because he was standing on the shoulders of giants.
Weve inherited an art-form from giants, some of whom were cranky old jews, and some of whom
werent jews, and some of whom werent even cranky.
Another piece of advice:
Ive learned over the years that everything is more or less the same amount of work, so you may as
well set your sights high and try and do something really cool.
There are other people around who can do the mediocre, meat-and-potatoes work that anybody can

do. So let them do that. You make the art that only you can make. You tell the stories only you can tell.
As a solution to various problems you may encounter upon the way, let me suggest this:
Make Good Art.
Its very simple. But it seems to work. Life fallen apart? Make Good art. True love ran off with the
milkman? Make Good Art. Bank foreclosing? Make Good art.
Keep moving, learn new skills. Enjoy yourself.
Most of the work Ive done thats been highly regarded has happened in places where, when I was
working on it I tended to suspect that it would go one of two ways either I was doing something
cool that, if I was lucky, people would talk about for some time, or I was doing something that people
would have a particularly good laugh about, in the places where they gather to discuss the
embarrassing mistakes of those who went before them.
Be proud of your mistakes. Well, proud may not be exactly the right word, but respect them,
treasure them, be kind to them, learn from them.
And, more than that, make them.
Make mistakes. Make great mistakes, make wonderful mistakes, make glorious mistakes. Better to
make a hundred mistakes than to stare at a blank piece of paper too scared to do anything wrong, too
scared to do anything.
Critics will grumble. Of course they will. Thats one of the functions of critics. As an artist its
your job to give them ulcers, and perhaps even something to get apoplectic about.
Most of the things Ive got right over the years, I got right because Id got them wrong first. Its how
we make art.
As a keynote speaker last year for the Eisners I said that compared to where I dreamed that comics
could be, as a young journalist in 1986, were in a Golden Age.
And I was taken to task in certain circles for this, as if Id said that this was as good as things could
get, or that there was nothing at all wrong with the world of comics. Obviously neither statement is
true.
Were in 2004, the year that Dave Sim and Gerhard finished the 300 issues of Cerebus, the year
that Jeff Smith completed Bone, both monumental tasks, both unique. Cerebus cannot be compared
with anything anyone else has done. Its unparalleled in its evolving portrait of its subject and its
subjects creator. Bone is, beginning to end, the best fantasy tale anyones told in comics. That in
itself gives me hope for the future.
Its the year that my daughter Maddy discovered Betty and Veronica, and that gives me another kind
of hope. Any world in which a nine year old girl can become, off her own bat, a mad keen comics
collector because she cares about the stories, is a good one.
I think the Internet is changing things.
Twice in the last eighteen months the Internet has been used as a way of rallying around publishers
who needed help. Good publishers who had cash flow problems, and who put out appeals for
assistance, letting people know that now was the time to buy. And people did. The Internet meant that
information was given to the people who needed it.
Last week, a web-cartoonist with a large readership, who had told his readership that he would

really like to quit his dayjob and devote the time to the comic, if they could raise the same money he
made in his dayjob. His readers dipped into their pockets, five dollars here and ten dollars there, and
delivered the annual wages from his dayjob.
The internet gives your comics cheap access to the world, without printing bills. Of course, it still
hasnt worked out a reliable way to pay people for their work, but Randy Milholland quit his job
yesterday to do Something Positive full-time, and Top Shelf and Fantagraphics are both still here.
Despite the grumblers, I think the Internet is a blessing, not a curse.
And if I have a prediction its simply this: the often-predicted Death of Comics wont happen.
There will be more booms and there will be more busts. Fads and fashions turn up in comics, as with
all things, and, as fads and fashions always do, they end, normally in tears.
But comics is a medium, not a fad. Its an art-form, not a fashion. The novel was once so called
because it was indeed something novel, but its lasted, and I think, after a few shakedowns, the
graphic novel, in whatever form, will do likewise.
Already some things are changing:
When I started writing about comics, before I ever began to write comics, I wanted a world in
which comics would simply be regarded as a medium like any other, and in which we were accorded
the same respect that any other medium was given. The amount of respect that novels and films and
great works of art got. I wanted us to get literary awards. I wanted comics to turn up on the shelves of
bookshops, and to sit next to books on the bestseller lists. Maybe one day a comic could come out and
be on the NYT bestseller list.
Weve got all that. And I dont think its important after all.
Right now I actually believe that the best thing about comics may well be that it is a gutter medium.
We do not know which fork to use, and we eat with our fingers. We are creators of a medium, we
create art in an art-form, which is still alive, which is powerful, which can do things no other medium
can do.
I dont believe that a fraction of the things that can be done with comics have yet been done.
For now, I think weve barely scratched the surface.
And I think thats exciting. I dont know where comics as a medium will go in the future. But I want
to be amazed, and I hope that I shall be.
And I trust that one day when you, whatever age, race, gender, or ethnicity you may lay claim to,
are in your turn, a cranky old jew up here giving a speech, that that will always remain true.

NEBULA AWARD SPEECH


Welcome, to the Nebula Awards, on this, the 40th anniversary of the founding of the SFWA. Thats
the Ruby Anniversary, for anyone wondering what sort of gift to give.
And forty years is a very short time in the life of a genre.
I suspect that if I had been given the opportunity to address a convocation of the most eminent
writers of science fiction and fantasy when I was a young mansay around the age of 23 or 24, when
I was bumptious and self-assured and a monstrous clever fellowI would have a really impressive
sort of speech prepared. It would have been impassioned and heart-felt. An attack on the bastions of
science fiction, calling for the tearing down of a number of metaphorical walls and the building up of
several more. It would have been a plea for quality in all waysthe finest of fine writing mixed with
the reinvention of SF and Fantasy as genres. All sorts of wise things would have been said.
And now Im occupying the awkward zone that one finds oneself in between receiving ones first
lifetime achievement award and death, and I realise that I have much less to say than I did when I was
young.
Gene Wolfe pointed out to me, five years ago, when I proudly told him, at the end of the first draft
of American Gods, that I thought Id figured out how to write a novel, that you never learn how to
write a novel. You merely learn how to write the novel youre on. Hes right, of course. The paradox
is that by the time youve figured out to do it, youve done it. And the next one, if its going to satisfy
the urge to create something new, is probably going to be so different that you may as well be starting
from scratch, with the alphabet.
At least in my case, it feels as I begin the next novel knowing less than I did the last time.
So. A ruby anniversary. Forty years ago, in 1965, the first Nebula Awards were handed out. I
thought it might be interesting to remind you all of the books that were Nominees for Best Novel in
1965 .
All Flesh is Grass by Clifford D. Simak
The Clone by Theodore Thomas & Kate Wilhelm
Dr. Bloodmoney by Philip K. Dick
Dune by Frank Herbert
The Escape Orbit by James White
The Genocides by Thomas M. Disch
Nova Express by William Burroughs
A Plague of Demons by Keith Laumer
Rogue Dragon by Avram Davidson
The Ship That Sailed the Time Stream by G. C. Edmonson
The Star Fox by Poul Anderson
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch by Philip K. Dick
I love that list. It has so much going onSF and Fantasy of all shapes and sizes, jostling side by
side. Traditional and iconoclastic fictions, all up for the same lucite block.

1965 Nebula Winners


Novel: Dune by Frank Herbert
Novella: He Who Shapes by Roger Zelazny and The Saliva Tree by Brian Aldiss (tie)
Novelette: The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth by Roger Zelazny
Short Story: Repent, Harlequin! Said the Ticktockman by Harlan Ellison
it was a good year.
Forty years on and were now living in a world in which SF has become a default mode. In which
the tropes of SF have spread into the world. Fantasy in its many forms has become a staple of the
media. And we, as the people who were here first, who built this city on pulp and daydreams and
four-colour comics, are coming to terms with a world in which we find several things they didnt
have to worry about in 1965.
For a start, todays contemporary fiction is yesterdays near-future SF. Only slightly weirder and
with no obligation to be in any way convincing or consistent.
It used to be easy to recognise SF written by mainstream authors. The authors always seemed
convinced that this was the first novel to tackle Faster Than Light travel, or downloadable
intelligence, or time paradoxes or whatever. The books were clunky and proud of themselves and
they reinvented the wheel and did it very badly, with no awareness of the body of SF that preceded
them.
Thats no longer true. Nowadays things that were the most outlandish topics of SF are simply
building blocks for stories, and they arent necessarily ours. Our worlds have moved from being part
of the landscape of the imagination to being part of the wallpaper.
There was a battle for the minds of the world, and we appear to have won it, and now we need to
figure out what were doing next.
I always liked the idea that SF stood for Speculative Fiction, mostly because it seemed to cover
everything, and include the attitude that what we were doing involved speculation. It was about
thinking, about inquiring, about making things up.
The challenge now is to go forward and to keep going forward: to tell stories that have weight and
meaning. Its saying things that mean things, and using the literature of the imagination to do it.
And thats something that each of us, and the writers who will come afterwards, are going to have
to struggle with, to reinvent and make SF say what we need it to say.
Anyway.
Something that, after half a lifetime in this field and a lifetime as a reader, that I think worth
mentioning and reminding people of, is that we are a community.
More than any field in which Ive been involved, the people in the worlds of SF have a willingness
to help each other, to help those who are starting out.
When I was 22, half a lifetime ago, I went to a Brian Aldiss signing at Londons Forbidden Planet.
After the signing, at the pub next door, I sat next to a dark, vaguely elfin gentleman named Colin
Greenland who seemed to know a lot about the field and who, when I mentioned that I had written a

handful of stories, asked to see them. I sent them to him, and he suggested a magazine that hed done
some work for that might publish it. I wrote to that magazine, cut the story down until it met their
wordcount requirements, and they published it.
That short story being published meant more to me at the time than anything had up to that point, and
was more glorious than most of the things that have happened since. (And Colin and I have stayed
friends. About ten years ago, he sent me, without the authors knowledge, a short story by someone
hed met at a workshop named Susanna Clarke but thats another story.)
So. Twenty two years ago Six months later I was in the process of researching my first genre
book. It was a book of SF and Fantasy quotations, mostly the awful ones, called Ghastly Beyond
Belief.
and I found myself astonished and delighted by the response within the field. Fans and authors
suggested choice works by authors they loved or didnt. I remember the joy of getting a postcard from
Isaac Asimov telling me that he couldnt tell the good from the bad in his works, and giving me
blanket permission to quote anything of his I wanted to.
I felt that Id learned a real lesson back then, and its one that continues to this day.
What I saw was that the people who make up SF, with all its feudsthe roots of most of which
are, like all family feuds, literally, inexplicableare still a family, and fundamentally supportive,
and particularly supportive to the young and foolish.
Were here tonight because we love the field.
The Nebulas are a way of applauding our own. They matter because we say they matter, and they
matter because we care.
They are something to which we can aspire. They are our waythe genres way, the way of the
community of writersof thanking those who produced sterling work, those who have added to the
body of SF, of Fantasy, of Speculative Fiction.
The Nebulas are a tradition, but thats not why theyre important.
The Nebulas Awards are important because they allow the people who dream, who speculate, who
imagine, to take pride in the achievements of the family of SF. Theyre important because these lucite
blocks celebrate the ways that we, who create futures for a living, are creating our own future.

CONJUNCTIONS
Jupiter and Venus hung like grapes in the evening sky,
frozen and untwinkling,
You could have reached and up and picked them.
And the trout swam.
Snow muffled the world, silenced the dog,
silenced the wind
The man said, I can show you the trout. He was
glad of the company.
He reached into their tiny pool, rescued a dozen, one by one,
sorting and choosing,
dividing the sheep from the goats of them.
And this was the miracle of the fishes,
that they were beautiful. Even when clubbed and gutted,
insides glittering like jewels. See this? he said, the trout heart
pulsed like a ruby in his hand. The kids love this.
He put it down, and it kept beating.
The kids, they go wild for it.
He said, we feed the guts to the pigs. Theyre pets now,
They wont be killed. See? We saw,
huge as horses they loomed on the side of the hill.
And we walk through the world trailing trout hearts like dreams,
wondering if they imagine rivers, quiet summer days,
fat foolish flies that hover or sit for a moment too long.
We should set them free, our trout and our metaphors:
You dont have to hit me over the head with it.
This is where you get to spill your guts.
You killed in there, tonight.
He pulled her heart out. Look, you can see it there, still beating. He said,
See this? This is the bit the kids like best. This is what they come to see.
Just her heart, pulsing, on and on. It was so cold that night, and the stars were all alone.
Just them and the moon in a luminous bruise of sky.
And this was the miracle of the fishes.